The Struggle for Self-Determination: History of the Menominee Indians since 1854

By David R. M. Beck | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Menominee Survival
into the 1850s

God thought proper to have the Indians in this country, and you white men were put
on the other side of the ocean. It is you white people who have got our land away
from us. We supposed you white people would help us along. You have been buying
and selling the lands, and after all you pay about a shilling an acre, and how much you
get! All these lands were ours. The little money sent here by government is carried
away by mice; you white people are rich and have cities. All the young men are afraid,
and we are afraid, to take the money from those not yet born. Those young people
would think hard of the chiefs.—Shununiu, 8 September 1855

For thousands of years Menominee Indians lived in what is now north central and eastern Wisconsin and the south central portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They divided the territory into regions controlled by bands consisting of several dozen to more than a hundred members. Social organization also included a clan system that defined people’s relationships to each other and their responsibilities to the band and the tribe. The bands traveled extensively through the area, using rivers and lakes as their highways, trading and forging alliances with the nations that would become their neighbors, the Ojibwe (Chippewa), the Santee (Sioux), and the Ho Chunk (Winnebago). They harvested wild rice and fished in those same waterways, planted crops near their shorelines, and hunted and gathered in the lushly wooded forests surrounding them. These activities were directed by the seasons and through the beneficent intervention of their cultural heroes, who resided in the supernatural realm. The different bands traveled separately on foot or by canoe but shared the same language, customs, culture, and world-view, coming together in larger groups only at specified times of the year for particular ceremonial events. They adapted well to a constantly changing environment that provided all their needs—in abundance much of the year and in scarcity through the harsh wintry months.

The Menominee developed a rich, complex society that protected itself with a highly codified, though unwritten, system of justice and social control.

-xix-

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