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

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

CHAPTER EIGHT
Illusory Control

In the late 1920s and early 1930s the tribal-federal battle over resources extended beyond allotment, incorporation, and mill and forest mismanagement. In this crucial decade in the history of Menominee political resistance, the tribe faced two new threats. First, Wisconsin Power and Light Company (WPL) attempted to gain authorization to dam the Wolf River to build commercial hydroelectric plants. Second, as a result of the opposition to this plan, Congressman George Schneider proposed purchasing that portion of the reservation along the Wolf River for the creation of a national park. A plethora of local interests attempted to sway the tribe, Congress, and the OIA on these two issues. Throughout the ensuing battles, the tribe continued in its efforts both to fight off outsiders attempting to define their future and to gain a modicum of control. A hopeful change would occur in 1934, after John Collier took over as commissioner of Indian affairs, when for the first time the Indian Bureau assigned a Menominee as agency superintendent. For an illusory moment it appeared that the tribe may actually be able to gain some control of its destiny.


HYDROELECTRIC POWER AND A MENOMINEE NATIONAL PARK

In April 1926 WPL, a corporation under the influence of Samuel Insull, applied to the Federal Power Commission (FPC) for a permit to build a hydroelectric dam on the Wolf River where it ran through the Menominee reservation. The next month WPL amended its application, this time seeking authorization to build six hydroelectric dams on the Wolf River, five on the reservation and one just below, near Shawano. The latter would flood river water back onto reservation lands. The other five would be located at Keshena Falls, Big Eddy Falls, Smoky Falls, the Dalles, and Sullivan Rapids and would flood a good portion of the river valley on the reservation.1

The tribe itself had sought congressional permission to build commercial hydroelectric dams. Agency Superintendent Donner commented to Congress, “It would probably be impossible for private corporations to get the Indians

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