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ETHNONYM: Menomini


Identification. The name of this American Indian group, "Menominee," derives from the Chippewa mano mini, meaning "wild rice people."

Location. In the seventeenth century the Menominee inhabited the region bounded by Green Bay, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior. Since the mid-nineteenth century they have occupied a reservation on the Wolf River in northEastern Wisconsin. The region is dominated by northern hardwood forests, mixed with spruce forests north of the Menominee River. Annual precipitation averages about thirty inches per year. Temperatures may reach as high as 90° F in the summer and dip as low as 30° F in the winter.

Demography. The first estimates of the Menominee Population are late and postdate a long decline following exposure to European disease. In 1820 the Menominee numbered 3,900. In 1834, following a smallpox epidemic, the population dropped to 2,500. By 1915 the population was increasing because of a declining death rate and the addition to the tribal rolls of mixed-bloods and persons married to Menominee. The Menominee numbered 2,917 in 1956 and about 2,700 in the late 1970s.

Linguistic Affiliation. Menominee is an Algonkian Language. It has been classified as a member of the Central Algonkian subgroup, but is not closely related to any other distinct language in the subgroup.

History and Cultural Relations

In the mid-seventeenth century the native groups neighboring the Menominee included the Chippewa to the north, the Winnebago to the south, and the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo to the west. The tribes that maintained the closest relations with the Menominee until immediately prior to the reservation period were the Winnebago and Chippewa. Intermarriage with these groups was so extensive that close links have continued through the modern period. Contact with French fur traders occurred about 1667 and with Jesuit missionaries in 1671. As close allies of the French, the Menominee prospered in the fur trade and by 1736 had become one of the dominant tribes in the region. In 1815 the Menominee came under the Control of the United States. At about this time, game in the Menominee territory was being rapidly depleted, and consequently the Menominee began ceding their lands to the United States. By 1854 the Menominee had ceded all of their lands and were removed to a four-hundred-square-mile Reservation along the upper Wolf River in the heart of their former territory. In 1961 federal jurisdiction over the Menominee reservation, guaranteed by treaty in 1854, was terminated and then restored in 1973.


In aboriginal times the Menominee followed a semisedentary seasonal village pattern organized around hunting, fishing, gathering, and horticulture. As a result of Menominee involvement in the fur trade, the village pattern disintegrated and was replaced by a more nomadic way of life oriented toward hunting, trapping, and trading. When the Menominee were removed to their reservation in 1854 a more sedentary settlement pattern was required. For a half century the Menominee dispersed widely across the reservation, but since 1900 they have tended to concentrate in the village centers of Neopit and Keshena, the latter being the location for the buildings and operations of the U.S. Indian Service.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The precontact Menominee had small gardens in which they grew squash, beans, and maize, but they were basically hunters and gatherers. They also harvested wild rice and made extensive use of the resources of streams, particularly sturgeon. Hunting was done by individuals and small groups, with occasional larger hunts for deer and bison. After contact with the French the Menominee became heavily involved in trapping and trading activities and remained so until the early part of the nineteenth century. Since game and fish were not available in sufficient quantities on their reservation, after 1854 some Menominee turned to farming, although this never proved to be a successful activity. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and up to the present day lumbering has been the primary source of subsistence for many Menominee. In the 1950s, incomes from lumbering were supplemented by seasonal agricultural work and a wide range of relatively minor economic activities, including farming, hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering wild fruits.

Industrial Arts. The precontact Menominee made birch-bark and dugout canoes. They wove bags and baskets of vegetable fiber, bark, and bison hair, and manufactured pottery and bark and reed mats.

Trade. In precontact times the Menominee obtained catlinite originating from the Sioux quarries in present-day Minnesota and copper from the Lake Superior region and traded stone and wood manufactures to the Winnebago.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, men's responsibilities included hunting and fishing, warfare, ceremonial activities, preparing sacred artifacts, and manufacturing canoes and hunting and fishing equipment. Women's responsibilities included cooking, caring for children, collecting wild foods, gathering firewood, carrying water, dressing skins, making clothing, weaving mats and bags, and manufacturing pottery and household utensils. In the 1950s there was extensive sharing of economic roles between men and women among traditional Menominee. In addition, there was considerable occupational diversity among Menominee, most of it related to the lumber industry.

Land Tenure. During the fur trade period families claimed customary rights over particular river paths and hunting Territories, as game was depleted and hunting parties were forced to range over progressively wider territories.


Kin Groups and Descent. In aboriginal and early contact times the Menominee were organized into two moieties subdivided into totemic descent groups or clans. This system began to disintegrate in the 1700s under the impact of European contact and the nomadic way of life required by involvement in the fur trade. Totemic descent groups were patrilineal.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology is of the Omaha type. One of the main features of Menominee family relationships was a classificatory system of terminology that was still in use in the 1960s.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In aboriginal and early historic times marriages were arranged by kin groups and polygyny was practiced. A newly married couple usually lived with the husband's Parents. With the growing emphasis on mobility and smaller groups accompanying involvement in the fur trade, Monogamous marriages gradually became the norm.

Domestic Unit. The large extended family groups characteristic of the aboriginal and early historic Menominee were replaced during the fur trade period by small nomadic family hunting groups. In the 1950s Menominee were divided into approximately 550 households, most consisting of a nuclear family or an old couple with grandchildren or an unmarried daughter and her child.

Inheritance. Inheritance is bilateral. Sacred objects of the totem group are inherited from either the paternal or the maternal side.

Socialization. Traditionally, children were believed to be close to the supernatural through the event of birth and thus were considered extremely important. Infants were usually kept in cradle boards until the age of two or until they were able to walk and were nursed for as long as they would reach for the breast. Child training often took the form of story-telling, a common theme of which was constraint and self-control. Disciplining of children was left largely to the women. There was a distinct sanction against striking any child until he or she was eight years old. For punishment a child might be whipped about the legs, but never struck around the head, for it was believed that to do so would make the child dumb. Other punishments included throwing cold water in the child's face, scolding, or immersion in water. The favored form of coercion consisted of threats by reference to the owl or other creatures of the night. Many of these values and practices persisted in the 1950s among the traditional Menominee.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Prior to contact with Europeans the Menominee were organized into semisedentary villages of extended family groups. Involvement in the fur trade undermined this system and led to the development of a band System of social organization that persisted until the reservation period. After their arrival on the reservation many Menominee grouped according to their band affiliations, but with a more sedentary way of life, band identities gradually disappeared.

Political Organization. The formal political structure of the aboriginal Menominee consisted of a tribal chief, who was the head of the Bear moiety and whose position was inherited, and several lesser hereditary chiefs, who were heads of the various totemic descent groups. Descent group chiefs constituted a village council and regulated civil affairs to a limited extent. In addition, there were chiefs who won Prestige through dreams or special prowess and who served as keepers of the war medicines and as public spokesmen for the hereditary leaders. Under the influence of the fur trade, Leadership qualifications were modified to include success in obtaining furs, directing hunting and trading expeditions, obtaining credit, public speaking, and getting along well with Whites and other Indian tribes.

Social Control. A strong belief in witchcraft functioned as a form of social control among the aboriginal and historic Menominee and persists today among traditional Menominee. The witch could be any powerful elder, and his victims, deviant members of the group who failed to observe the group's prescriptions for behavior.

Conflict. The Menominee were unprepared for self-government when their reservation status was terminated in 1961, and significant health, housing, education, and general welfare problems developed as a result. In the 1970s, after tribal status was restored, severe intratribal differences emerged, as the Menominee sought to find solutions to these problems.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Menominee belief system was dualistic, with a continuing cosmic conflict between good spirits above the earth and evil spirits below. The highest tier of the universe above the earth was the home of the supreme deity, Mecawetok, and below him were the Thunderbirds or Thunderers, the gods of war, and the Morning Star. Beneath the earth and in the lowest tier was Great White Bear, the main power of evil. Others who resided in the evil underworld were Underground Panther, White Deer, and Horned Hairy Serpent, who inhabited the lakes and streams and tried to cap-size boats in order to drag people to the underworld. The earth itself was believed to be peopled with evil spirits and hobgoblins. The central experience of Menominee religion was the dream revelation, in which individuals obtained special power in the form of a guardian spirit. With some changes, the pattern of securing a guardian spirit through fasting and dreaming persisted among traditional Menominee in 1960.

Religious Practitioners. Medicine men and diviners possessing powers obtained from their guardian spirits were organized into ceremonial societies, but worked more or less as individuals.

Ceremonies. A variety of ceremonial organizations developed among the Menominee after European contact, and some of these persisted in varying forms among traditional Menominee in the mid-1900s. These included the Medicine Lodge Society, whose ceremonies are intended to prolong the life and ensure the good health of the members; the Dream Dance or Drum Dance, which involved petitioning the spirits for help in the activities of everyday life; and the Warrior's Dance, borrowed from the Chippewa in 1925 and intended to protect men being drafted and participating in Contemporary wars.

Arts. Precontact art forms show a well-developed geometric art and indicate the use of highly conventionalized figures. Postcontact art forms included work with porcupine quills and animal hair with a religious motif. About 1830 a new phase in Menominee art was initiated in which the older geometric motifs were replaced with elaborate floral and realistic designs and the skin and quill work was replaced by cloth and beadwork with new color pigments. This art form persists in special events and dancing for tourists.

Medicine. Illness was believed to be the result of the loss of one's soul through witchcraft. Diviners with special powers consulted with the spirits to find the source of the illness and then would attempt to coax the soul of the patient to return and enter a small wooden cylinder where it was imprisoned and delivered to the patient's relatives. The cylinder was then attached to the patient's breast for four days so that the soul could return to the body.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, after death the deceased was placed on a scaffolding or buried beneath logs on the ground. Grave goods included the deceased's weapons, tools, and ornaments. Early observers of the Menominee Reported that a corpse was painted red to signify happiness at the privilege of the soul in departing to the spirit land. The ghosts of the dead were believed to linger around the grave indefinitely and to have a strong influence on the living. In spite of the fear of ghosts, mourners visited the burial place to offer food and games, and ritual activities were performed to keep the ghosts contented. Until the mid-twentieth century it was a common practice for the deceased to have his totem painted, usually upside down, on a grave stick at his place of burial. In modern times the dead are buried in a coffin in the ground beneath a small houselike structure with an opening through which food and other offerings can be placed.


Hoffman, Walter J. (1896). The Menomini Indians. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 14th Annual Report (1892-1893), Pt. 1, 3-328. Washington, D.C.

Keesing, Felix M. (1939). The Menomini Indians of Wisconsin: A Study of Three Centuries of Cultural Contact and Change. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, no. 10. Philadelphia.

Skinner, Alanson B. (1913). Social Life and Ceremonial bundles of the Menomini Indians. American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers 13, 1-165. New York.

Skinner, Alanson B. (1921). "Material Culture of the Menomini." Indian Notes and Monographs (Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation), misc. ser. 20(1). New York.

Spindler, George D. (1955). Sociocultural and Psychological Processes in Menomini Acculturation. University of California Publications in Culture and Society, no. 5. Berkeley.

Spindler, Louise S. (1962). Menomini Women and Culture Change. American Anthropologial Association, Memoir 91. Menasha, Wis.

Spindler, Louise S. (1978). "Menominee." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger, 708-725. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution.


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MENOMINEE. The name of the Menominee tribe refers to the wild rice that grew in the tribe's homeland, 10 million acres in what is now eastern Wisconsin. Although the Menominees were forced to cede their land in a series of treaties between 1817 and 1856 and were scheduled to be moved west, they negotiated a treaty in 1854 securing a reservation of nearly 300,000 acres in their ancestral homeland. Menominee history is marked by a continuing struggle to keep and protect their remaining land, where subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering were supplemented by gardens of corn, beans, and squash. The people managed village and tribal affairs according to a patrilineal clan system and a hereditary chieftainship that changed to a system of elected tribal officials. Nominally Roman Catholic since their first significant European contacts with French fur traders and Jesuits in the 1650s, the tribe's native religious practices continue among an active enclave of traditionalists.

As they were drawn into a money economy, the Menominees recognized the value of their timberland. They strongly opposed clear-cutting and devised the sustained-yield forestry system now widely practiced. Resisting the

federal allotment policy of the 1880s (see Dawes General Allotment Act), the Menominees were the only reservation tribe in Wisconsin and one of the few across the nation to escape its disastrous consequences. Lumbering operations provided employment, financed reservation services, paid salaries of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) personnel, and supported the Catholic-run hospital and schools. The tribe also had nearly $10 million in working capital. Its relative prosperity made them appear "less Indian" than the many poor tribes and a prime candidate for the termination policy adopted in 1953 to eliminate reservations and force dispersal of the Indian tribes. The Termination Act was passed in 1954 over strenuous Me-nominee opposition; however, the tribe managed to delay its implementation until 1961. Meanwhile the tribe's lumber mill deteriorated and tribal resources were spent on a complicated self-management plan and to transfer tax-free federal land to county status for purposes of taxation. The tribe began termination with a $300,000 deficit. Their business operations were dominated by white government appointees, leaving the tribe with less control over their own affairs than under the BIA. Soon the hospital and schools closed, reservation services were abolished, and unemployment and health problems skyrocketed. Desperately needed revenue was raised through land sales. Termination also brought statutory genocide as tribal rolls were closed at 3,270 members in 1954.

A grassroots resistance movement to overturn termination began in late 1970 among urban Menominees, who then rallied the fearful reservation people. With legal help from Wisconsin Judicare and the Native American Rights Fund, the Menominees united as a tribe, developing a successful lobbying campaign that resulted in the precedent-setting Menominee Restoration Act signed by President Richard Nixon on 22 December 1973. But the damage wrought by termination could not be undone by the historic Restoration Act alone. Three decades later the tribe, then numbering over 8,000 (according to the 2000 Census), was still striving for the social and economic well-being enjoyed before termination.


Keesing, Felix M. The Menomini Indians of Wisconsin: A Study of Three Centuries of Cultural Contact and Change. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.

Lurie, Nancy Oestreich. "To Save the Menominee People and Land." In Approaches to Algonquian Archaeology: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Conference, the Archaeology Association of the University of Chicago. Edited by Margaret G. Hanna and Brian Kooyman. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary Press, 1982.

Peroff, Nicholas C. Menominee Drums: Tribal Termination and Restoration, 1954–1974. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.

Shames, Deborah, ed. Freedom with Reservation: The Menominee Struggle to Save Their Land and People. Keshena, Wis.: College of the Menominee Nation Press, 1995.

Spindler, Louise S. "Menominee." In Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant et al. Volume 15: Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Ada E.Deer

See alsoTermination Policy ; Tribes: Great Plains .

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Menominee (indigenous people of North America)

Menominee (mənŏm´ənē), indigenous people of North America whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). Also called the Menomini, they were a sedentary people who chiefly subsisted on the gathering of wild rice; the Algonquian name for wild rice is manomin. In c.1634, when they were visited by the missionary Jean Nicolet, the Menominee were living at the mouth of the Menominee River in Wisconsin and Michigan. From 1671 until 1854 they inhabited settlements that extended from the Menominee River S to the Fox River and bordered the western shore of Green Bay. Although some of the Menominee supported the British in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, they were generally peaceful toward the American settlers. The Menominee were, however, bitter enemies of the neighboring Algonquian tribes, who waged constant warfare to drive the Menominee out of the rich wild-rice area. In 1854 the Menominee were settled on a reservation (Menominee Reservation) on the Wolf River, in N central Wisconsin. The tribe owns one of the largest sawmills in the Midwest and operates a casino. In 1990 there were some 8,000 Menominee in the United States.

See F. Keesing, The Menomini Indians of Wisconsin (1939, repr. 1971); L. Spindler, Menomini Women and Culture Change (1962).

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Menominee (city, United States)

Menominee (mənŏm´ənē), city (1990 pop. 9,398), seat of Menominee co., N Mich., W Upper Peninsula, on Green Bay at the mouth of the Menominee River; inc. 1883. It is a distribution center for upper Michigan and N Wisconsin. Metal, paper, and wood products and machinery are manufactured. Of interest is the "mystery ship," raised (1969) from the bottom of Green Bay, where it sank in 1864. A bridge connects Menominee with Marinette, Wis.

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Menominee (river, United States)

Menominee, river, 118 mi (190 km) long, formed by the union of the Brule and the Michigamme rivers above Iron Mountain, W Upper Peninsula, N Mich., and flowing SE into Green Bay at Menominee. It passes through a once plentiful iron-ore region and forms part of the Wisconsin-Michigan line.

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Menominee (Menomini) Algonquian-speaking tribe of Native North Americans once occupying the Menominee River, Wisconsin, to the area around Michilimackinac. Today c.3,500 inhabit the Menomini Reservation in ne Wisconsin.

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