Menominee mark 50 years of restoration of tribal status

Tribe was one of two to be terminated in 1960s

December 22, 2023, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Menominee Indian Tribe’s Restoration from the federal policy of Termination.

The U.S. Congress passed the Menominee Termination Act in 1954 but it did not take effect until April 30, 1961. The Termination Act discontinued federal services and set in motion an economic collapse, social disruption and failure of infrastructure in the Menominee community, according to the tribe.

A core group of Menominee that included Ada Deer, Sylvia Wilber and others lobbied to once again become a federally recognized tribe.

In December 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act, which reinstituted the Menominee Indian Tribe as a federally recognized sovereign Indian tribe and restored federal services furnished to tribes because of their status as American Indians.

In recognition of this historical milestone, Menominee leadership created a 50th Anniversary Restoration Planning Committee that included Chairperson Myrna Warrington and members Joey Awonohopay and Rachel Fernandez.

The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin set forth the following timeline regarding Termination and Restoration.


Several Congressional Acts, including the Indian Reorganization Act, authorized per capita distribution of Menominee tribal funds and strengthened the Menominee tribe as a more self-governing entity. The tribe hired attorneys to assist them in a lawsuit against the U.S. government. The lawsuit was for losses sustained through the mismanagement of the lumber operation. In all, 13 lawsuits were initiated against the government. 1934

The Wheeler-Howard Act. known as the Indian Reorganization Act, was signed into law. This allowed tribes to develop a constitution and set up their own governing body. 1935

A congressional act initiated hearings on claims of the Menominee Tribe against the government for cutting other than dead and down timber and fully matured and ripened green timber. The tribe voted and accepted the Reorganizational Act but never organized or operated under provisions of the act. Instead, they decided to keep their 10-member elected Advisory Council and the General Tribal Council as official decision-making and governing bodies. 1945

The swamp lands case was settled. The government recommended the state be paid for the loan out of Menominee funds. However, the government had to pay for its own oversight and the 38,000 acres of swamp land on the reservation was released from the state jurisdiction. On July 5, after more than 90 years of intermittent litigation, the tribe received title to 33,870 acres of swamp land for which the federal government paid $1,590,854 to the state of Wisconsin. The swamp land had been lost to the tribe in 1854, under provision of the Swampland Act of September 28, 1850. The award also allowed $13,666 to the tribe in compensation for timber removed by the state from the swamp lands. The final Court of Claims decision was rendered June 5, 1944, but the conclusion of the matter was delayed until 1945 due to an initial refusal of the Wisconsin Secretary of Treasury and the Secretary of State, both members of the State Land Commission, to sign the transaction.


The Menominee Tribe won an $8.5 million judgement against the government for failure on the part of the government officials to carry out provisions of the LaFollette Act. About 20,486 acres of pine-hardwood-hemlock forest had been clear-cut northeast of Neopit. The judgment was the result of a settlement entered by the federal court following the consolidation of five lawsuits pending since 1938.


The tribe petitioned Congress for a $1,500 per capita payment of the award monies for each of the 3,270 enrolled Menominees. The request passed the House but when it reached the Senate, it ran into a road block. Sen. Arthur Watkins (R-Utah) attached a provision to the bill. This required the tribe to accept termination of federal supervision to get the requested payment. This termination program was a federal policy of forcing tribes to assimilate by withdrawing federal supervision.

Tribal records indicate members assumed they were requesting a portion of their money from the U.S. Treasury. Watkins exerted pressure to coerce the tribe and enforce the termination policy. The Federal Indian Relocation Program started. This program was designed to take Indians from the reservations and assist them in finding work in the city of their choice. 1954

On June 17, the Menominee Termination Act was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower, providing for termination of federal control of the Menominee Indian Reservation. This was in spite of the fact the Menominee called another council meeting and unanimously voted to reject termination. The Menominee Tribal rolls were closed as a result of the Termination Policy. The Menominee Tribal Leaders were informed that they had until 1958 to develop a plan to take over the Reservation and submit the plan to the Secretary of Interior. Ironically at this same time, the tribe celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of the reservation. 1959

On Jan. 17, the articles of incorporation and bylaws of the newly formed Menominee Enterprise Inc. were adopted by a 91-16 vote at a general council.

On July 3, Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed a law making Menominee County the state’s 72nd county, the first to be formed since 1901. The law took effect at midnight on April 30, 1961. Menominee County then had about 3,300 residents; including 2,720 enrolled members of the tribe, whose total membership at this time was 3,700. Creating the new county was the major concern for the state. For the tribe, it was organizing the tribal lumber business. Crucial to the issue was the preservation of the forest and mill as a source of livelihood for tribal members.


Shortly after termination was finalized, the hospital in Keshena was closed by the state on the ground that it did not meet state fire standards.


The Menominee Council of Chiefs was organized as a Wisconsin nonprofit corporation. The main purpose of the organization was to preserve the name “Menominee Indian Tribe,” which was technically abolished at the time of termination. To preserve its name as a tribe, the Council of Chiefs acclaimed the special name as “Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin Inc.” 1964

A petition with 789 signatures of Menominee was signed and forwarded to President Lyndon Johnson requesting a repeal of termination. Johnson ignored the petition.


In May, the U.S. Court of Claims ruled in favor of the tribe. It was the court’s opinion that the Menominees did not relinquish their hunting and fishing rights when the tribe was terminated from federal control. This was a landmark case that helped other tribes, because the Supreme Court ruled that termination did not abrogate treaty rights. This helped force the federal government to abandon their termination plans. On July 9, MEI entered into the Lakes of the Menominees project with N.E. Isaacson & Associates, lake developers from Reedsburg. The agreement provided for the eventual development of Legend Lake. 1970

A grassroots organization titled DRUMS (Determination of Rights & Unity of Menominee Shareholders) was established to stop the land sales and restore the reservation to federal status. 1971

In November, MEI, DRUMS and county officials began discussions concerning the restoring of the reservation to federal status. 1972

On April 20, Sens. William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson introduced Senate Bill 3514 calling for restoration of the Menominee Tribe. 1973

Another Menominee Restoration Bill was introduced in Congress.

On Oct. 16, House Bill 10717, originally sponsored by Rep. Harold Froelich and recommended by the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 404-3.

On Dec. 7, the Senate Interior Committee recommended a slightly amended bill. This measure was considered and was passed by the Senate. The House concurred with the Senate amendments, and the bill went to the President. On Dec. 22, President Richard Nixon privately signed the Menominee Restoration Act into law. Public Law 93-197, The Menominee Restoration Act, made provisions for the return of the Menominee Indians to full tribal status and the return of the tribal assets to trust status.