The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, or “wild rice people,” are a federally recognized Indian tribe who have lived in Wisconsin for millenia. They are the oldest Native American community that still lives there.
Official Tribal Name: Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin
Address: W2908 Tribal Office Loop Road, PO Box 910, Keshena, WI 54135
Phone: Email: Email Form
Official Website: www.menominee-nsn.gov/mitw/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
Mamaceqtaw, meaning “the people.”
The name of the tribe, and the language, Omāēqnomenew, comes from the Menominee word for wild rice, which was a staple of this tribe’s diet for millennia.
Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:
Menominee was adopted by Europeans from the Ojibwe people, another Algonquian tribe whom they encountered first as they moved west and who told them of the Menominee people.
Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Menomini, Malhomines, Menomonee, Mishinimakinago, Misi’nimäk Kimiko Wini’niwuk, Michilimackinac, Mishinimakinago, Mǐshǐma‛kǐnung, Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go, Missilimakinak, Teiodondoraghie.
Name in other languages:
The Ojibwe name for the tribe was manoominii, meaning “wild rice people.”
The early French explorers and traders referred to the Menominee as folles avoines or peuples d’avoines (meaning wild oats), referring to the wild rice which they cultivated and gathered.
Omanoominii is used by the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa), their Algonquian neighbors to the north.
Region: Northeast (Eastern Woodland)
State(s) Today: Wisconsin
The historic Menominee territory originally included an estimated 10 million acres (40,000 km2) in present-day Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. are believed to have been well-settled in that territory for more than 1,000 years. By some accounts, they are descended from the Old Copper Culture people and other indigenous peoples who had been in this area for 10,000 years. Menominee oral history states that they have always been there.
Seven treaties were signed between the Menominee and the US Government between 1821 and 1848:
Treaty of 1821
Treaty of September 3, 1836 at Cedar Point, on Fox river, near Green Bay, in the Territory of Wisconsin.
Treaty of October 18, 1848 at Lake Pow-aw-hay-kon-nay, in the State of Wisconsin.
Treaty of May 12, 1854 at the Falls of Wolf River, in the State of Wisconsin.
Treaty of February 11, 1856 at Stockbridge, in the State of Wisconsin.
Reservation: Menominee Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
The Menonimee have the only American Indian reservation which falls only under federal law, rather than under the Wisconsin law per Public Law 280. They are sovereign on their reservation.The reservation was created in a treaty with the United States signed on May 12, 1854 in which the Menominee relinquished all claims to the lands held by them under previous treaties, and were assigned 432 square miles (1,120 km2) on the Wolf River in present-day Wisconsin. An additional treaty, which they signed on February 11, 1856, carved out the southwestern corner of this area to create a separate reservation for the Stockbridge and Lenape (Munsee) tribes, who had reached the area as refugees from New York state. The latter two tribes have the federally recognized joint Stockbridge-Munsee Community.
Land Area: 353.894 sq mi (916.581 km²)
Tribal Headquarters: Keshena, WI
Time Zone: Central
Population at Contact: James Mooney estimated that the tribe’s population in 1650 was 3,000 people.
Registered Population Today: Approximately 8,700 enrolled members.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Persons must be on the tribal roll taken pursuant to subsection 4c of the Menominee Restoration Act, or descended from an enrolled tribal member. You must be at least 1/4 Menomine blood to qualify for enrollment.
Name of Governing Body:
Number of Council members:
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:
Language Classification: Algonquian =>Central Algonquian => Menominee
Language Dialects: Menominee
For good sources of information on both the Menominee and their language, some valuable resources include Leonard Bloomfield’s 1928 bilingual text collection, his 1962 grammar (a landmark in its own right), and Skinner’s earlier anthropological work.
Number of fluent Speakers:
The Menominee language is severely endangered with only a handful of fluent speakers left. According to a 1997 report by the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, 39 people spoke Menominee as their first language, all of whom were elderly; 26 spoke it as their second language; and 65 others had learned some of it for the purpose of understanding the language and/or teaching it to others.
Their reservation is located 60 miles west of the site of their Creation, according to their tradition. They arose where the Menominee River enters Green Bay of Lake Michigan, where the city of Marinette, Wisconsin has since developed.
Bands, Gens, and Clans:
The five principal Menominee clans are the Bear, the Eagle, the Wolf, the Crane, and the Moose. Each has traditional responsibilities within the tribe. With a patrilineal kinship system, traditional Menominee believe that children derive their social status from their fathers, and are born “into” their father’s clan.
The Menominee were known to be peaceful and friendly peoples, who had a reputation for getting along with other tribes. When the Oneota culture arose in southern Wisconsin between AD 800 and 900, the Menominee shared the forests and waters with them.
Ceremonies / Dances:
During the rite of passage at puberty, both boys and girls fast for days, living in a small isolated wigwam. The youths meet individually with Elders for interpretation of their dreams. The Elders inform the youths what responsibilities they will take on following their rite of passage.
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Legends / Oral Stories:
Art & Crafts:
Wild rice and sturgeon were the main staple of the Menominee diet. Other staple foods were beaver, trout, partridge,blackberries, and, maple sugar. Sturgeon also had a mythological importance and is often referred to as the “father” of the Menominee.
In 2013 the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved plans of the Menominee Nation to build a casino at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
An amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill authorized cultivation of industrial hemp.
The nation has a notable forestry resource and ably manages a timber program
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
Traditional Menominee believe that the Earth forms a partition between the upper and lower worlds. The upper world represents good and the lower world represents evil. These two worlds are divided into several layers, the furthest being the most powerful. The Sun is at the highest level in the upper world, followed by the Thunderbird and the Morning Star, the Golden Eagles (symbols of war) and other birds, who are led by the Bald Eagle. The first level below the earth in the lower world is occupied by the Horned Serpent. The succeeding lower levels are the home of the White Deer, who helped create the Medicine Dance. The next level is that of the Underwater Panther. The lowest level is ruled by the Great White Bear.
Traditional Menominee use dreaming as a way of connecting with a guardian spirit in order to gain power.
Members of the same clan are considered relatives, so must choose marriage partners from outside their clan.
Education and Media:
Tribal College: College of the Menominee Nation was founded in 1993 and accredited in 1998. The main campus is in Keshena, WI.
Famous Menominee Chiefs and Leaders:
The Menominee are descendants of the Late Woodland Indians who inhabited the lands once occupied by Hopewell Indians, the earliest human inhabitants of the Lake Michigan region. As the Hopewell culture declined, circa 800 A.D., the Lake Michigan region eventually became home to Late Woodland Indians.
Early fur traders and explorers from France encountered their descendants: the Menominee, Chippewa (Ojibwa), Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, and Miami.
The Menominee were initially encountered by European explorers in Wisconsin in the mid-17th century during the colonial era, and had extended interaction with them during later periods in North America. During this period they lived in numerous villages which the French visited for fur trading. It is believed that the French explorer Jean Nicolet was the first non-Native American to reach Lake Michigan in 1634 or 1638.
Initially neutral during the War of 1812, the Menominee later became allied with the British and Canadians, whom they helped defeat American forces trying to recapture Fort Mackinac in the Battle of Mackinac Island. During the ensuing decades, the Menominee were pressured by encroachment of new European-American settlers in the area. Settlers first arrived in Michigan, where lumbering on the Upper Peninsula and resource extraction attracted workers. By mid-century, encroachment by new settlers was increasing. In the 1820s, the Menominee were approached by representatives of the Christianized Stockbridge-Munsee Indians from New York to share or cede some of their land for their use.
The Menominee gradually sold much of their lands in Michigan and Wisconsin to the U.S. government through seven treaties from 1821 to 1848, first ceding their lands in Michigan. The US government wanted to move them to the far west in the period when Wisconsin was organizing for statehood, to extinguish all Native American land claims. Chief Oshkosh went to look at the proposed site on the Crow River and rejected the offered land, saying their current land was better for hunting and game. The Menominee retained lands near the Wolf River in what became their current reservation
The tribe was terminated in the 1950s under federal policy of the time which stressed assimilation. During that period, they brought what has become a landmark case in Indian law to the United States Supreme Court, in Menominee Tribe v. United States (1968), to protect their treaty hunting and fishing rights. The Wisconsin Supreme Court and the United States Court of Claims had drawn opposing conclusions about the effect of the termination on Menominee hunting and fishing rights on their former reservation land. The US Supreme Court determined that the tribe had not lost traditional hunting and fishing rights as a result of termination, as Congress had not clearly ended these in its legislation.
The tribe regained federal recognition in 1973 in an act of Congress, and re-established its reservation in 1975. They operate under a written constitution establishing an elected government. Their first government under it took over tribal government and administration from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1979.
In the News:
The Menominee have traditionally practiced logging in a sustainable manner. In 1905, a tornado swept through the reservation, downing a massive amount of timber. Because the Menominee-owned sawmills could not harvest all the downed timber before it decomposed, the United States Forest Service became involved in managing their forest. Despite the desire of the tribe and Senator Robert M. LaFollette for sustainable yield policy, the Forest Service conducted clear-cutting on reservation lands until 1926, cutting 70 percent of the salable timber.
The Department of the Interior regained control of the territory, as it holds the reservation in trust for the Menominee. During the next dozen years, it reduced the cutting of salable timber to 30 percent, which allowed the forest to regenerate. In 1934, the Menominee filed suit in the United States Court of Claims against the Forest Service, saying that its policy had heavily damaged their resource. The court agreed and settled the claim finally in 1952, awarding the Menominee $8.5 million.
During the period of termination, when the Menominee individually were subject to state law, in 1963 three members of the tribe were charged with violating Wisconsin’s hunting and fishing laws on what had formerly been their reservation land for more than 100 years. The tribal members were acquitted. When the state appealed the decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the Menominee tribe no longer had hunting and fishing rights due to the termination act of Congress in 1954.
Due to the state court’s ruling, the tribe sued the United States for compensation for the value of the hunting and fishing rights in the U.S. Court of Claims, in Menominee Tribe v. United States (1968). The Court ruled that tribal members still had hunting and fishing rights, and that Congress had not abrogated those rights. The opposite rulings by the state and federal courts brought the issue to the United States Supreme Court.
In 1968 the Supreme Court held that the tribe retained its hunting and fishing rights under the treaties involved, and the rights were not lost after federal recognition was ended by the Menominee Termination Act, as Congress had not clearly removed those rights in its legislation. This has been a landmark case in Indian law, helping preserve Native American hunting and fishing rights for other tribes, as well.
In October 2015, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents raided the reservation, destroying 30,000 plants. The Menominee said these were industrial hemp plants, cultivation of which was authorized by federal law. The DEA contends it was marijuana.
Language by Leonard Bloomfield.
Menominee Language by Leonard Bloomfield.
Menominee Lexicon by Leonard Bloomfield
Material Culture of the Menomini by Alanson Skinner
The Menominee (Indian Nations)
Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir