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

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

CHAPTER FOUR
Twenty Million Feet a Year

In 1871, when the Menominee began the long and difficult task of taking control of their forest resource—barely snatching it from the greedy hands of local logging interests—the federal government permitted the tribe to do so on the condition that the proceeds of log sales support agricultural endeavors. With the 1873 Cook decision as a foundation, this stipulation remained the key to the government’s permission to allow the Menominee to log tribal forests, until the passage of an 1890 law that systematized logging on the reservation.1 Throughout this time, federal officials in Washington continued to insist that the Americanization of the Menominee would require the development of agriculture. Local Indian agents, who also viewed farming as the long-term solution to Menominee economic woes, increasingly viewed the tribal forest as a source of economic stability, but within a context that would eventually lead to an agriculture-based economy on the reservation.

Menominee intentions remained to protect their homeland and to secure survival on their own terms. At times they worked with local agents, at other times in opposition to them. In any case, the United States continually thwarted them, whether on the local or the national level. The Menominee readily recognized the value of their timber resource and constantly worked to find ways to exploit it for the tribal good. This meant a steady tribal shift in focus from agriculture toward logging, as the forest began to provide an increasingly steady source of jobs and income.

As the tribal economy changed in the late nineteenth century, the structure of tribal leadership also began to change in dramatic ways. Old leaders’ roles were redefined, and a new group of leadership began to emerge. The main goal of tribal leaders, however, continued to be to pursue economic development and solutions to problems in tribally defined ways.

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