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The Menominee (also spelled Menomini; known as Mamaceqtaw, "the people" in their own language) are a nation of Native Americans living in Wisconsinmarker. The Menominee, along with the Ho-Chunk, are the only tribes that are indigenous to what is now Wisconsin. The name "Menominee" comes from the Ojibwe name manoominii, meaning "wild rice people", as wild rice is one of their most important traditional staples.

The Menominee Indian Reservation

The Menominee Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation located in northeastern Wisconsinmarker. For the most part, it is conterminous with Menominee Countymarker and the town of Menomineemarker. However, there are many small pockets of territory within the county (and its geographically equivalent town) that are not considered to be part of the reservation. These pockets amount to a fairly small 1.14 percent of the county's area, so that, essentially, the reservation is only about 98.86 percent of the county's area. The largest of these pockets is in the western part of the community of Keshenamarker. Furthermore, the reservation has a plot of off-reservation trust land of in Winnebago Countymarker, to the south, west of the city of Oshkoshmarker. The reservation's total land area is 916.581 km² (353.894 sq mi), while Menominee County's land area is 927.111 km² (357.960 sq mi). The non-reservation parts of the county are actually much more densely populated than the reservation, with 1,337 (29.3%) of the county's 4,562 total population, as opposed to the reservation's 3,225 (70.7%) population in the 2000 census. (The plot of land in Winnebago County is unpopulated.) The most populous communities are Legend Lakemarker and Keshenamarker. They operate a number of gambling facilities and speak the Menominee language.

History of the Reservation

The reservation was created in a treaty signed on May 12, 1854 in which the Menominee relinquished all claims to the lands given to them under previous treaties, and were assigned on the Wolf River. An additional treaty signed on February 11, 1856 carved out the southwestern corner of this area, creating a separate reservation for the Stockbridge and Munsee tribes. These are the same boundaries in existence today.


History of the Menominee

Dan Waupoose, a Menomini chief; Algiers, La. U.S.
Navy photograph, August 24, 1943.
The tribe formerly lived in what is now upper Michigan around Mackinac. John Reed Swanton records in his The Indian Tribes of North America under the "Wisconsin" section listing "Menominee" a band named "Misi'nimäk Kimiko Wini'niwuk, 'Michilimackinac People,' near the old fort at Mackinac, Mich." Father Frederic Baraga in his dictionary records "Mishinimakinago; pl.-g.—This name is given to some strange Indians, (according to the sayings of the Otchipwes,) who are rowing through the woods, and who are sometimes heard shooting, but never seen. And from this word, the name of the village of Mackinac, or Michillimackinac, is derived." After selling their lands to the U.S. government through seven treaties from 1821 to 1848, they were moved to their present reservation. Although their customs are quite similar to those of the Chippewa (Ojibwa), their language has a closer affinity to those of the Fox and Kickapoo tribes.

An Eastern Woodlands tribe, the Menominee belong to the Algonquian language branch of North America. They were known as "folles avoines" (wild or foolish oats) by the early French. The Menominees formerly subsisted on a wide variety of plants and animals, with wild rice and sturgeon being two of the most important foods; feasts are still held annually at which each of these is served. The five principal Menominee clans are the Bear, the Eagle, the Wolf, the Crane, and the Moose.

The Menominee Tribe and the Termination Era

During the 1940s, the Menominee were identified for a U.S. program of termination, legally ending the Menominee's status as a sovereign nation. The Klamath in Oregon were the only other tribal group also identified for termination. The Menominee were chosen for termination because it was believed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs they were economically self-reliant from the timber industry to be free of federal oversight.

In 1954, Congress passed a law which phased out the Menominee reservation, effectively terminating its tribal status on April 30, 1961. Commonly held tribal property was transferred to a corporation, Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI). The area of the former reservation became a new county.

The plan was a failure, resulting in diminished standards of living for the members of the tribe, and forcing the closure of the hospital and some schools. Menominee County, Wisconsinmarker, was the poorest and least populated Wisconsin county during this time, and termination further devastated the region. The tribal industry alone could not sustain the community, and the tax base could not fund basic services for the Menominee. MEI funds, which totaled $10 million in 1954, dwindled to $300,000 in 1964. A 1967 plan by MEI to raise money by selling off former tribal lands to non-Native Americans resulted in a fierce backlash.

Community members began an organizing campaign to restore political sovereignty to the Menominee. Former tribe members, among them Ada Deer, an organizer who would later go on to a career as an advocate for Native Americans at the federal level, formed a group called the Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Stockholders (DRUMS) in 1970. The organization was successful at blocking the sale of tribal land to non-Indian developers. They successfully fought for control of the MEI board of directors and lobbied Congress to restore their status as a federally recognized sovereign tribe.

The lobbying was successful, resulting in a bill signed by Richard Nixon on December 22, 1973, which recognized the tribe again and started them on the path towards reforming a reservation. The reservation was reformed in 1975, a tribal constitution was signed in 1976, and the new tribal government took over in 1979.


Menominee mythology is rich with ethical meaning and interrelated in complex ways with the sacred literature of Native American people.

The Menominee believed that the earth was separating the upper and lower worlds. The upper world represented good and the lower world represented evil. These two worlds were divided into several layers, the furthest being the most powerful. The sun was 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 led by the Bald Eagle. The first level below the earth in the lower world was occupied by the Horned Serpent. The next level was the home of the White Deer, which contributed to the origins of the Medicine Dance. The next level was the Underwater Panther. The lowest level was ruled by the Great White Bear.

The Menominee used dreaming as a way of connecting with a guardian spirit in order to gain power. During puberty, both boys and girls would fast for days, living in a small isolated wigwam. Shamans would then interpret their dreams of spirits in animal form and would inform the youngster what responsibilities he or she owed to the guardian spirit.

Current tribal activities

The Menominee have a community college called the College of the Menominee Nation.

The tribe also owns and operates a Las Vegasmarker style casino, bingo and hotel that has been in operation since June 5, 1987. Approximately 79 percent of the Menominee Casino-Bingo-Hotel's 500 employees are of Native American descent or are spouses of Native Americans.

Notable Menominees


  1. Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press., pg. 401, n. 134.
  2. Menominee Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land, Wisconsin United States Census Bureau
  3. Menominee Language and the Menominee Indian Tribe (Menomini, Mamaceqtaw)
  4. Swanton, John R. (1952). Indian Tribes of North America. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Reprinted by the Smithsonian Institution, 1974, 1979, 1984.
  5. Baraga, Frederic (1878). A Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language. Montreal: Beauchemin & Valois, v. 2, p. 248.
  6. Tiller, Veronica. Tiller's Guide to Indian Country: Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations. Bowarrow Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 1-885931-01-8.
  7. Milwaukee Public Museum - Indian Country Wisconsin. Last accessed 06/30/2008.
  8. Menominee Culture - Indian Country Wisconsin
  9. About Us


  • Beck, David R. M. (2005) The Struggle for Self-Determination: History of the Menominee Indians Since 1854. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Davis, Thomas (2000). Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York.
  • Nichols, Phebe Jewell (Mrs. Angus F. Lookaround). Oshkosh The Brave: Chief of the Menominees, and His Family. Menominee Indian Reservation, 1954.

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