This Day in History: Menominee Tribe v. United States

For another case study in how the federal government tried to exterminate Native nations, their cultures, and their hunting and fishing rights, just look across the river to the Menominee people in Wisconsin.

Here is the brief history, provided by the tribe’s website:

The Menominee Indian Tribe’s rich culture, history, and residency in the area now known as the State of Wisconsin, and parts of the States of Michigan and Illinois, dates back 10,000 years. At the start of the Treaty Era in the early 1800’s, the Menominee occupied a land base estimated at 10 million acres; however, through a series of seven treaties entered into with the United States Government during the 1800’s, the Tribe witnessed its land base erode to little more than 235,000 acres ….

Things got worse for the Menominee in the 1950s. Congress passed the Menominee Termination Act, unilaterally ending federal recognition of the tribe and their status as sovereign nations. It was part of a broad federal policy to terminate all Native tribes.

Among other things, with the tribe’s sovereign status gone, the state required Menominee people to get hunting and fishing licenses like other state residents. Three Menominee people were arrested for hunting and fishing without a license on land that used to be part of their reservation. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was decided on this day in history, May 27, 1968. According to Wikipedia:

It was a landmark decision in Native American case law. … the Supreme Court held that the tribe retained its hunting and fishing rights under the treaties involved and the rights were not lost after federal recognition was ended by the Menominee Indian Termination Act without a clear and unequivocal statement by Congress removing those rights.

Later that same year, Richard Nixon was elected president. He would go on to reverse the Termination Policy. According to the Nixon Foundation, Nixon thought the policy was wrong “because it meant the United States would not honor its commitment to recognize tribal authority and property rights, even after Native Americans had surrendered vast amounts of land to the Federal government.”

This gave the Menominee Nation an opening to regain its tribal sovereignty and it seized it. According to the Menominee tribal website, “the Tribe won back its federal recognition in 1973 through a long and difficult grassroots movement that culminated with the passage of the Menominee Restoration Act, Public Law 93-197, on December 22, 1973.”

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