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

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

CHAPTER SIX
The Weight of Federal Wardship

During the years from 1908 until 1924 the Menominee reached the nadir of their ability to govern themselves. Ironically, this adversity occurred following the enactment of the 1908 LaFollette Act, which called not only for the employment of tribal members but also for their training to take over Menominee business affairs. Unfortunately, the federal government under the LaFollette Act ran the tribe’s business as a paternalistic wardship, virtually without input from the tribe.

Since agency officials constantly thwarted the Menominee, the tribe’s only alternative was to appeal directly to Washington, either to the commissioner of Indian affairs or to Congress. Thus they sent delegations to Washington as they had done since the 1850s. The makeup of these delegations and their success or failure were always controversial issues in tribal politics and manifested themselves in an ambivalence toward the delegates themselves. The agency superintendents compounded the problem: they were quick to vilify any Menominees who opposed them and sometimes successfully convinced tribal members that these delegates were agitators and greedy, lazy, self-interested people. When delegations returned from Washington without success, Menominees were inclined to believe that they had wasted their efforts. In most cases these charges lacked truth. The problem was that bureaucracies in government are notorious for moving ever so slowly. As longtime tribal leader Gordon Dickie described the problem many years later, “I’ve done a lot of lobbying for the tribe. And this is one thing that I haven’t been able to get across to tribal members or even the [tribal] legislature. You don’t just go up and ask Congress to appropriate money. You’ve got to be able to sell it to key members of the committee before and after the hearings. So you’ve got to be able to have a personal contact with those people. And this isn’t done overnight, this has taken years.”1 Thus, sometimes lobbying trips were brief, while other times they lasted from several weeks to months.

One tribal member who frequently made such trips to Washington was Mitchell Oshkenaniew. The tribe’s ambivalence toward his role is instruc-

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