What is the Menominee Tribe?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2019
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The Menominee are a tribe of Native Americans from Wisconsin and Michigan in the United States. Their original home was primarily along the Menominee River, which runs through parts of both states. They speak an Algonquian language, and their name comes from the Algonquian word for wild rice, which was a large part of their diet. The Menominee tribe still lives in Wisconsin, where they have a 275,000-acre (111,288-hectare) reservation.

In historical times, the Menominee tribe primarily lived as hunter-gatherers, although they did farm some crops, including squash, corn, and beans. Men did most of the hunting and fishing, while the women of the tribe would generally gather different wild plant foods. In the summer, they mostly lived in small cabins covered in bark, and during winter, they lived in wigwams.

The Menominee tribe were fairly mobile, generally moving to different areas throughout the year as food necessitated. They constructed canoes out of birch bark, which they used for fishing sturgeon, a large part of their diet in the summer. During winter, hunting became a more important food source, and they would generally leave their riverside settlements and move into the forest. Bows and arrows were their primary hunting tools, while deer and small game were the main targets, although buffalo were also hunted occasionally.


Several other Indian tribes took refuge in the Wisconsin area for various reasons. With the addition of European settlers, the Menominee were being squeezed out of their territory. This led to wars and epidemics that greatly reduced the tribe's overall population.

The Menominee tribe made their first contact with Europeans through a French missionary named Jean Nicolet in 1634. Partly because of this, they chose to become French allies, and soon they were heavily involved in the fur trade. The tribe generally maintained their ties to the French until the conclusion of the French and Indian War. During the War of 1812, they stood with the British against the US.

In the early 1800s, the tribe started selling off their lands to the US, and by 1854, they had given up all their territory except for a small reservation. The Menominee initially attempted to make money with agriculture, but they eventually ended up in the lumber business, which proved prosperous for them. There was a period during the early 1900s when the tribe accused the Bureau of Indian Affairs of mismanaging their forest lands, and the Menominee were able to successfully sue the group for $8.5 million US Dollars (USD).

In 1961, a law was passed that removed federal jurisdiction from the Menominee reservation area, which effectively made it into a regular Wisconsin county. This caused severe problems for the Menominee, partly because some of their facilities couldn’t meet the standards of some Wisconsin state laws. The problems eventually escalated into an economic crisis, but the Menominee were able to reverse the situation in 1973, when they successfully lobbied for the passage of a law that reestablished their reservation.


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