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What is a Menominee Indian?

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  • Written By: Brenda Scott
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A Menominee Indian is a member of the Native-American Menominee tribe, one of the Algonquin groups located in the Great Lakes region. The Menominee can trace their origins back several thousand years to settlements at the mouth of the Menominee River near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Unlike most tribes in North America who have been relocated to areas far from their homelands, the Menominee Indian Reservation is only about 60 miles (96.56 km) from their original settlement on the Menominee River.

The tribe called itself Kiash Matchitiwok, or the Ancient Ones, but eventually became known as Menominee, which is the Chippewa word for a wild rice that grows in the region. This rice was especially abundant in the marshy areas around the great lakes near the Menominee Indian settlements. In addition to being a primary food source, the rice was a valuable trading commodity with tribes living further south and west. The Menominee also fished for sturgeon, hunted, planted beans and squash and made maple syrup and sugar.

The tribe was divided into five primary clans: Bear, Eagle, Wolf, Crane, and Moose. In addition to belonging to one of the major clans, a Menominee Indian would belong to one of the numerous sub-clans which operated as hunting groups. Oversight of various tribal functions such as civil government, inter-tribal relations, building construction, tribal protection, harvesting and hunting was assigned to specific clans. The clans were patrilineal, meaning that children were members of their father’s clan.

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During the summers, a Menominee Indian would live in a longhouse in a large community where the tribe would fish, farm and gather rice. During the winter the community would break up into smaller sub-clans and migrate to different areas where they would live in domed wigwams and hunt. These groups were easier to sustain during the cold months without depleting the surrounding areas of fuel and game. After the tribe became involved with the French fur trade in the seventeenth century, a number of even smaller groups were formed to enable them to trap and hunt over a broader area.

The Menominee wore colorful clothing made of deerskin and decorated with porcupine quills, painted designs and, after the introduction of European trading, beadwork. Depending upon the occasion, a Menominee Indian man would wear a turban on his head decorated with fur and feathers or wrap his head with a colorful sash. The women wore copper jewelry made from copper found in surface deposits in the area. Menominee women were also known for their intricately designed woven bags constructed from plant fibers and buffalo hair.

The Menominee were allies of the French in the War of 1812, but the Treaty of Ghent which ended that conflict gave the territory where they lived to the United States. In 1817, the Menominee signed a peace treaty with the US. The Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin was established in 1954 and is government by tribally elected officials. The reservation is home to successful timber and gaming industries.

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