Menominee Restoration

Please close this window to return to previous page.

Dr. Verna Fowler, Menominee:
You can see why the restoration movement gained momentum so fast and why so many of the Indians, as Joan mentioned, were in Chicago or Milwaukee could readily relate to what was happening on the reservation and could see the need for restoration.

Joan Harte, Menominee:
We brought an enthusiasm to ridding the reservation of the scoundrels.  So it was in Chicago where we formed JOBS.  And then we got on buses and came up and participated in the marches.

Narrator:
DRUMS took on a new meaning at Menominee in 1970 when determination of rights and unity for Menominee stockholders was formed to fight for repeal of termination. Its coalition of Menominees from the reservation and from urban areas, such as Chicago and Milwaukee, proved effective.

Joan Harte:
It gave hope to the people who were on the reservation, who couldn’t speak out as our people could.

Shirley Daly:
That being a company town, you were responsible to the establishment and if you didn’t, make the right noises or say the wrong thing, you would feel like your job is at stake, and if your job goes, what have you got and where will you go?

Narrator:
DRUMS was a group energized by the Indian activism of the 1960s.  Jim Washinawatok led a protest at the First Wisconsin Trust Company in Milwaukee.

Joan Harte:
And he was able to state our case and had the courage to go up there and face all of the opposition.

Ada Deer, Menominee:

It developed that several of us were in positions to help the tribe.  And by us, I mean a number of people in the DRUMS group who shared these same values of caring for the land and concern for our people.

Narrator:

Ada Deer also emerged as a powerful leader.

Ada Deer:
This meant many of us working around the clock doing many things—putting out the newsletter, writing the newsletter, going to meetings, taking minutes, and baking cookies and selling them.

Joan Harte:
It was an all-out, grassroots effort.  And it was so great to be part of this movement.

Shirley Daly:
We had the support of the National Congress of American Indians on our march to Madison. We had our friends and Winnebagos marching right along with us. We had migrant workers marching with us. Just all people, all tribes, and all colors were there. People had a thing that they’d like to tell us and to disturb us and they’d say, “Well, Menominee egg is broken and Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and you can’t put it back together again.” And Vine Deloria came here and said, “Maybe that egg is broken, but one thing you can do with eggs is you can make a hell of a good omelet out of them. And that’s what we’ll do here.”

Ada Deer:

We had excellent legal assistance from the Native American Rights Fund and from Joseph Preloznik who was then the director of Wisconsin Judicare. Nancy Lurie, anthropology professor, writer, and scholar. There were people in the Nixon administration that were quite helpful to us. The former Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, at one time was a congressman in Wisconsin for the Menominees. And he helped us. I want to point out that this was a bi-partisan effort, that both Republicans and Democrats created the problem, both Republicans and Democrats helped solve the problem.

Shirley Daly:
So that was a White man’s trick that we learned about, and that was proxies. You get proxies and so that was part of our movement. If we could get the proxies, we could control the company, if we get control of the company, then we’ve got the resources to really work on restoration.

Narrator:
Gaining control of Menominee Enterprises was an important step, but Ada Deer knew what ultimately had to be done.

Ada Deer:
In analyzing the problem, that was the only solution, a congressional act.

Narrator:
So Ada Deer moved to Washington D.C. to lobby for a restoration act, which would return reservation status to their land and Indian rights to the Menominee people.

Shirley Daly:
There were no jobs. And I think that was the second Indian war that was lost, the War on Poverty, that Johnson tried to wage, and the Menominee Reservation just failed completely. Our men had all that they could do to provide for their families. So we weren’t at that point where our men would have the time and opportunity to even get involved and think about what else was going on around them.

Joan Harte:
It was mostly the Indian women who had a leadership role.

Hilary Waukau:
But I give them credit that if it wasn’t for that group of people we wouldn’t be sitting here today enjoying the shade of these trees and the serenity of these woods that we got here. I give them the credit for bringing back Menominees to their rightful status as a sovereign nation with control of our assets, control of our land, control of our property, and control of our destiny.

Narrator:
President Richard Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act on December 22, 1973. Ada Deer’s vision was not to restore things as they were, however, but to forge a new relationship, federal protection of their lands without federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ domination.

Ada Deer:
Many people said, “Well, when is the Bureau coming back?”  “Excuse me, the Bureau is not coming back.”  “Well, what are we going to do?  How is it going to work?”  I said, “We will do this.  We, Menominees, will carry out the Restoration Act.”

Shirley Daly:
These experiences, even though they were terrible and people can’t imagine the genocide–the term is just so awful–that it very narrowly happened to us. That we survived that. That some of the stuff just helped to temper us just like fine steel to make us stronger.

Ada Deer:
And so expressing our tribal values, we prevailed. We changed our history and achieved a very important historic reversal of American Indian policy.

Narrator:
Today Ada Deer is assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior, in charge of the federal Indian policy she worked so hard to change.

From Since 1634: In the Wake of Nicolet
Video courtesy of Ootek Productions, 1993

  • Share/Save/Bookmark