Language: The Algonquian language Menominee (or Menomini)
is today spoken by only a few tribal elders in Wisconsin, though some younger Menominees hope to
revive the language. Menominee is a polysynthetic
language with complex verbs and fairly free word order.
People: The Menominee Indians called themselves Mamaceqtaw, but their Algonquian relatives called them
Menomini, "wild-rice people," and the name stuck. Original inhabitants of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, the
Menominee people were traditional enemies of the Fox (Mesquakie).
Around 7000 Menominee Indians live in Wisconsin today.
History: The Menominee tribe was the victim of immigration pressure before Europeans ever
reached the Americas. Of all the surviving Native American peoples in Wisconsin, the Menominee and the
Winnebago are the only ones who claim to be original to that area: the
Fox and Sauk, Dakota,
Illinois, and Cheyenne
migrated from elsewhere, and the Menominee Indians, never a large tribe, couldn't do much to stop it. After European contact, things
became worse--population pressures increased as the Ojibwe
and Huron tribes were forced into Wisconsin by European and
Iroquoian expansion. Then the white settlers themselves arrived. Most
small Algonquian tribes of Wisconsin were wiped out by the fighting and epidemics of that era,
but not the Menominee tribe. Due to a combination of good fortune and political adroitness, the Menominee
managed to maintain friendly relations with the powerful Dakota and Ojibwe even as those two nations fought each other.
The near-annihilation of the Winnebagos, tragic though it was, provided
relief for the overcrowded region, and the Menominee tribe was able to claim some of that land.
Later attempts by the Americans to relocate the Menominee to Minnesota were successfully
fended off by Menominee Chief Oshkosh, and the tribe's pioneering work in sustainable forest
management under his guidance was so effective that the US government actually terminated their
status as an Indian Nation in 1961, declaring Menominee lands no longer in need of protection. The
results of this termination were disastrous, and the US reversed policy 12 years later.