Menominee Claim

Please close this window to return to previous page.

Shirley Daly, Menominee:
It’s just something that you can’t comprehend happening, but it did happen: we were terminated.

Narrator:
The plan was to terminate the reservation status of Menominee lands. Acting on a 1952 Republican campaign promise to get the federal government out of the Indian business and to give the Indians their freedom, the idea of termination was sold using the rhetoric of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

From 1954 Civil Rights film:
I know what it is to be refused a meal in a restaurant, and a room in a hotel.

Narrator:
But there was an inherent flaw in this approach. The African-Americans were at that time focused on freedoms for the individual. Native Americans had their collective resource, land, at stake, and with it their cultural heritage.

Shirley Daly:
And in the 1950s then the policy was to assimilate as rapidly as possible the Indians into the mainstream of American life. Get us off the reservations. We take our reservations away, we’re going to have to end up being like everybody else.

Ada Deer, from old film footage:
The work of our youth board is based on the proposition that it is hard to hate anyone you have come to know and understand. As we travel around…

Narrator:
Ada Deer was still a student when termination was first announced in 1954, but she would later play a key role in the fight to restore reservation status.

Ada Deer, Menominee:
In one of the treaties, we reserved an area of land to be held as Indian lands are held as a homeland for the Menominees. These are very important words. Treaties are the supreme law of the land and we feel that they need to be honored.

Hilary Waukau, Menominee:
There was a psychological hurt to our people that the federal government would do that to us. That the treaties meant that as long as the grass was green, the waters flow, and the sun comes up in the east, that’s for all time. If some change of direction were to come up, is the water not flowing, is the grass not green?

Shirley Daly:
The termination experience for the Menominees came at a very curious time in American history. It was right after the McCarthy era, where we had all this big fear of communism. And if you think about Indian tribes and how we live and how we think, it’s communal.

Ada Deer:
Many people suffered in many ways because of the injustice of termination. Our hospital was closed, people could no longer receive educational scholarships. It was a cultural, economic, political disaster.

Shirley Daly:
Menominees were particularly singled out for this experiment because Menominees had been relatively successful in the non-Indian arena, in challenging the federal government and taking them to court for mismanagement of their property.

Narrator:
Earlier in the century Senator Robert M. LaFollette guided a bill through Congress that established the Menominee sawmill and formalized their sustained yield practices. But U.S. Forest Service managers violated these guidelines. The result was damage to the Menominee forest that is still evident today.

Hilary Waukau:
We won a 10,500,000 million dollar lawsuit against the federal government, but 2 million went to our attorneys and 8,500,000 million dollars went to a tribal treasury account in Washington D.C. And the proviso on that was that before any money could be used for any purpose, that it took an act of the Congress of the United States to free that money up.

Shirley Daly:
Individual Menominees were very poor and there was talk then about Menominees getting a per capita payment of $1500. Senator Watkins from Utah came to the Menominee Reservation and cajoled Menominees.

Hilary Waukau:
He said in essence, “You Menominees are smart enough to sue the federal government, you’re smart enough to run your own business.” We requested a simple per capita payment with about a three line bill introduced. And then it went to committees and then they came back with about twenty, thirty different sections that was about a five page bill where they wanted to terminate the Menominee Tribe from federal control and supervision and make them non-Indians. A lot of our tribal leaders went up and said well, “Senator, we don’t want all of our assets here, we’re not in the position to take care of them. We not in the position, smart enough, we’re not educated enough, and it’ll be a catastrophe.” No, he says, “You can talk all you want, you’re not going to convince me. Your people are going to be terminated whether you like it or not.”

Shirley Daly:
The question of termination was tied to the per capita payment. If you voted for the per capita payment, you were in effect voting for termination. At the general council meeting about 168 or 169, I don’t remember the exact vote, voted to accept the per capita payment and in doing that they voted for termination. And there were about five people that opposed it, in any event. But that was always the vote that was taken to say Menominees wanted termination.

Hilary Waukau:
The Wisconsin legislature, in its wisdom, the governor and the legislature passed resolutions and made appearances in Congress stating that the Menominees were not ready for termination. But it all fell on deaf ears that we could not convince the Congress to change their minds.

Ada Deer:
Throughout this, Menominees remained Indian people, attached to the land and wanted to remain together as a tribe and a community. Under Wisconsin law the tribe had the option to vote and the people voted to become Menominee County.

Hilary Waukau:
Rather than go to existing counties, which was racism and distrust and everything else, we thought, “Well, we’ll form our own county.” Which is one reason we were able to keep our Menominee lands intact.

Shirley Daly:
So we became Wisconsin’s 72nd county and also Wisconsin’s smallest county, and I suppose Wisconsin’s poorest county. And then finally in 1961 we actually were terminated. The federal protection was taken away from us. We were no longer recognized as an Indian tribe. And it’s really hard to understand the kind of confusion that resulted. Indians lived on homesteads for generations and all of the sudden found themselves having to buy that property, found themselves all of a sudden having to pay taxes, which was a totally foreign idea to them.

Hilary Waukau:
Some of the older people would call me crying in desperation, “What are we going to do? We feel like we’re left adrift.”

Shirley Daly:
And we’re at this meeting and these ladies were all saying their thing. And this one man turned around, some Indian man, and said, “What are you doing here anyway? You don’t have any business here, Menominees wanted to be white people.”

Hilary Waukau:
All we could say was, “Well, let’s persevere and ask the Great Spirit to help us and guide us because he looked after us and he always does. If we pray to him and have a lot of kindness in our hearts and that if we ask him for his blessing and look after us, he will.”

Narrator:
Menominee Enterprises Incorporated was set up to manage the tribe’s assets. In an effort to insulate this corporation from tribal politics, non-Indians held a majority on the board of directors. It was decided that the First Wisconsin Trust Company would represent Menominee minors and those unable to manage their own affairs.

Hilary Waukau:
It’s kind of ironic that we were deemed to be capable of handling our own business and accept all the assets, but we were still not deemed ready to handle our own affairs. And it proved that what we said was right. We were always outvoted in the minority on the voting trustees and the directors. We didn’t actually have control of our own operation. Menominee land, Menominee forest, Menominee dollars should be controlled by Menominees, but it wasn’t.

Narrator:
Faced with a huge tax burden, the board decided to capitalize on the scenic beauty that was abundant in Menominee County. They devised a plan to flood a marshland, creating hundreds of lakefront lots to sell non-Indians for vacation homes. This would bring more taxpayers into the county.

Shirley Daly:
But they’re talking about issuing warranty deeds and the Legend Lake development was starting. And we didn’t know anything about what warranty deeds were. We found out what warranty deeds were. It was voted on, and my mother came home from a general council and she was in tears. And, you know, anybody seeing that kind of thing would hurt and I did.

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

  • Share/Save/Bookmark