Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin

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One reason the BIA chose the Menominee for termination was that the tribe had successful forestry and lumbering operations that the BIA believed could support the tribe economically.

Congress passed an act in 1954 that officially called for the termination of the Menominee as a federally recognized Indian tribe.

The 1954 act set 1958 as the year the Menominee would be terminated. In the intervening four years, the tribe had to address a spate of issues such as what to do with its tribal assets and federally protected reservation lands.

They drew up a plan for termination, but when it became clear that four years was insufficient preparation, the federal government gave the tribe a year’s extension.

Termination proved to be such a huge task that the Menominee eventually requested two additional one-year extensions. All tribal property was transferred to a corporation, Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI), and the reservation became a new Wisconsin county, Menominee County.

Termination arrived for the tribe on April 30, 1961, and it was evident from the start that termination was failure. Menominee County was the poorest and least populated in Wisconsin, and it lacked the tax base needed to provide basic services such as police, waste disposal, and firefighting.

Each Menominee was a shareholder in MEI, and although it did well in the early years of termination, the financial crisis into which Menominee County was born quickly ate up the meager profits and stockholder dividends of MEI.

The lumber mill operation could not employ all Menominees, and by the time of termination, it needed renovations MEI could not afford. Moreover, the reservation hospital, previously kept open using federal funds, had to close.

The story was the same all over the old Menominee reservation as schools, utilities, and a variety of services were either closed, ended, or dramatically scaled back. When Congress passed the Menominee termination act in 1954, the tribe’s cash assets had been valued at over $10 million.

The pressing needs that followed termination in 1961 drained this sum to $300,000 by 1964, and despite all that was spent, it still was insufficient to provide for tribal members’ needs. Indeed, termination quickly resulted in lower standards of living for all Menominee.

They were fortunate that Richard M. Nixon, then president, had publicly come out against termination and was sympathetic to American Indian interests.

The tribe lobbied Congress and, to the surprise of even the Menominee, a bill was passed to restore their status as a federally recognized tribe.

President Nixon signed the bill on December 22, 1973. The Menominee Tribe was the first of the terminated Tribes to be restored.