Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Ada Deer and the Menominee Restoration: Rethinking Native American Protest Rhetoric

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Ada Deer and the Menominee Restoration: Rethinking Native American Protest Rhetoric

Article excerpt

1973 marked one of the most significant events in United States Indian policy. Led by Ada Deer, Determination for the Rights and Unity of Menominee (hereafter DRUMS) lobbied and testified before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (93rd Congress) and succeeded in winning restoration for the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin (H.C.R.7421). Restoration meant the reversal of termination, making the Menominee once again a federally recognized tribe. (1) Termination meant the closure of tribal roles, meaning Menominee children were no longer enrolled tribal members. Menominee land's trust status was revoked, resulting in the sale of formerly tribal land to non-Menominee. Termination meant the closure of all Bureau of Indian Affairs' schools, which led to student harassment and recidivism. Finally, termination meant that infrastructure was now subject to property taxes and building codes, which led the once thriving tribe into economic ruin. Restoration was an exceptional accomplishment not only for the Menominee, but also for all Native Americans, because it was the first time any Native American group successfully worked with the federal government to craft legislation that served their interests. At the center of this effort was Ada Deer, co-founder of DRUMS and Chairman of Menominee Common Stock and Voting Trust. After restoration Deer served as interim and then first tribal chairperson; later she would go on to be a key figure in state and national politics, culminating with her appointment as the first Native American and first female director of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (1993-1997). This essay focuses on Deer's opening statements at each of the two Congressional hearings on restoration and argues by focusing on the right to self-determination and equality, Deer inverts the ideals of liberal democracy from being an argument that compelled termination to one that justifies restoration. (2) By explicating the argument strategies used by Deer in this remarkable moment of Native American activism, this discussion broadens the scope and study of Native American protest rhetoric.

First, I discuss termination legislation as it was inspired by liberal democracy and capitalism. Next, I explore the effects of termination and the burgeoning 1960s American Indian Movement. Third, I examine Deer and DRUMS' advocacy through the lens of counterpublic theory and argue that, as an example of political moderation, it stood in contrast to the confrontational tactics of AIM. Finally, I examine Deer's demands for the sovereignty of Menominee land and culture and argue it inverts liberal democracy and turns it into a claim for restoration. In closing, I reflect on the range of political strategies used by Native Americans and call for a reevaluation of the cultural ideologies brought to bear the scope and study of Native American protest rhetoric. Deer's activism was compelled by passage of the 1953 Menominee Termination Act (H.C.R. 108).

Termination: the failure of liberal democracy

In the short time between 1947 and 1953 termination was represented as clearing the last barrier between Native Americans and all the benefits of liberal democracy. (3) After stepping in to fill the shoes of the ill Commissioner William Brophy, and at the request of Congress, Assistant Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner William Zimmerman submitted what came to be known as the "Zimmerman Report," which identified a list of tribes divided into three categories by their degree of "acculturation." The first piece of legislation aimed at tribal termination came on February 8, 1947 when Senator Raymond Butler (Nebraska) introduced a bill which reflected Zimmerman's plans by transferring some of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' duties to the state, "elimination of some tribal services provided by the federal government, and a long-range schedule for the removal of formal tribal recognition and status" (Herzberg 1978, 146). …

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