Menominee Treaties and Treaty Rights

Peace Treaty with the U.S.

The first treaty the Menominee signed with the United States was in 1817. Like most Midwestern tribes, the Menominee sided with the British during the War of 1812, and after the conflict ended, the United States made peace with all the tribes which had opposed it during the war. The 1817 Treaty restored a state of peace between the United States and the Menominee, and the tribe sold no lands at this time.

Land Cession Treaties for New York Tribes

The Menominee entered into treaty negotiations along with the Ho-Chunk in 1821 to provide land for three tribes emigrating from New York. Through the resulting treaty, the two tribes gave the New York Indians about 860,000 acres, followed by a second treaty in 1822 ceding 6.72 million acres -- almost the entire western shore of Lake Michigan -- to the emigrants. However, the Menominee and Ho-Chunk refused to abide by either treaty, arguing that their principal leaders had not attended the treaty councils, thus invalidating the treaties. Moreover, they contended they had been deceived into thinking that the New York Indians only intended to live on the land, not purchase it. The Menominee and the Ho-Chunk opposed the 1821 and 1822 treaties so strongly that the United States Senate refused to ratify either treaty. The federal government sought on several occasions to mediate the dispute between the two sides.

In 1825, the Menominee were present at the Prairie du Chien Treaty council along with the Ho-Chunk, Santee Dakota (Santee Sioux), and Sauk and Fox. The treaty’s purpose was to establish boundaries and prevent intertribal wars and fighting between the respective tribes. The treaty established a boundary between the Menominee and Ojibwe and promised future treaty negotiations to resolve the dispute with the New York Indians.

The opportunity to resolve the unratified 1821 and 1822 treaties came in 1827 at a treaty council held at Little Lake Butte des Morts in Wisconsin. However, the New York Indians did not send delegates and the treaty did little more than reaffirm the boundary between the Menominee and Ojibwe. The treaty did call for a commission to examine the New York Indian dispute and make recommendations to the President, who would then make a binding decision. The Ho-Chunk and the Menominee protested the findings of the commission, and President John Quincy Adams was reluctant to make a decision based on these findings. Another provision of the 1827 Butte des Morts Treaty was that tribal delegations at the council received $15,682 in gifts and $3,000 for the establishment of schools among them.

In 1831, a final attempt to procure lands for the New York tribes from the Menominee and Ho-Chunk commenced in Washington, D.C. In the end, only the Menominee ceded lands, including the western shore of Lake Michigan. The Menominee did not view this as a great loss because the area had not been part of their original homelands. In return, the Menominee received five farm instructors to teach them agricultural skills for a period of ten years, plus a grist and lumber mill on the Fox River, a gunsmith, and blacksmith shop. Additionally, the government gave them $8,000 in clothing, $1,000 in food, $1,000 in cash, and a $6,000 annuity for 12 years. A final provision reserved their right to hunt and fish on the ceded lands until the government sold the land to Whites.

The most important provision in the 1831 Treaty was the cession of 500,000 acres near Green Bay for the New York Indians. About a week after signing the first treaty, the Menominee signed a second compromise treaty that slightly modified the time limit granted to the New York Indians for their removal to their new lands. In the provisions of the first treaty, the Menominee received $20,000 for the land they ceded to the New York Indians. When the Senate ratified the first 1831 treaty, they changed the specified boundaries so the New York Indians received better land. The cession still amounted to 500,000 acres, but the Menominee rejected the new boundaries, thus creating the need for a third compromise treaty in 1832. In this final treaty, the Menominee relented and approved the boundaries established by the Senate. In appreciation for the Menominees' cooperation, the government compensated them with $1,000 in gifts, 500 bushels of corn, ten barrels of pork, and ten barrels of flour. This ended the long land debate with the New York Indians.

Land Cessions for Wisconsin Settlements

By the 1830s, the rich lands of Wisconsin had attracted the interest of White settlers, and the federal government sought to buy land from Wisconsin Indians to make room for its own land-hungry population. In 1836, the Menominees sold most of their land in northeastern Wisconsin and a small strip along the Wisconsin River to the United States via the Treaty of the Cedars. In exchange, they received $20,000 in cash, $3,000 worth of food provisions, 2,000 pounds of tobacco, 30 barrels of salt, and $500 for agricultural supplies such as plows and cattle every year for 20 years. The United States also agreed to pay off $99,710.50 worth of debts the Menominee had incurred with local fur traders. The Menominee agreed to relinquish the 1831 Treaty provisions of agricultural instructors, a grist and lumber mill, a gunsmith, and blacksmith shop. In exchange for releasing the United States from these responsibilities, the federal government put $76,000 into stocks for the tribe. Interest on these stocks was to be paid to the tribe annually.

The Menominee still held territory in north-central Wisconsin, but soon the United States pressured the tribe to sell their lands. In 1848, the Menominee ceded the last of their Wisconsin land to the U.S. in the Treaty of Lake Poygan, which promised the Menominee a new homeland of 600,000 acres in Minnesota. In return for their Wisconsin lands, the tribe was to receive a total of $350,000, utilizing $150,000 to cover moving expenses and the remaining $200,000 for equal cash installments over the course of ten years beginning in 1857. The 1848 Treaty allowed the Menominee to remain two more years in Wisconsin.

Land Restoration Treaty

At the end of the two-year grace period set by the 1848 Treaty, the Menominee refused to go to Minnesota. Oshkosh, the Grand Chief of the Menominee, argued that the government had pressured the tribe into selling their lands. The Menominee petitioned the government to allow them to stay in Wisconsin. They sent a delegation to meet with President Millard Fillmore, who sympathized with the tribe, and, in 1852, granted the Menominee a temporary reservation along the Wolf River. In 1854, the Menominee signed another treaty which made this 250,000-acre reservation permanent. The treaty also provided the Menominee with $15,000 to open a manual-labor school for young men, a grist mill, and blacksmith shop. They also received another $40,000 to be used at the discretion of the President. The Menominee gave up all claims to Minnesota lands promised to them, and agreed to modify the provisions of the 1848 Treaty. The 1854 Treaty stated that the tribe was to receive $242,686 over the course of 15 years beginning in 1867 for the land ceded in 1848.

In 1856, the Menominee provided approximately 46,000 acres of the southwestern corner of their reservation for the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, who otherwise would have had to leave Wisconsin. In exchange, the Menominee received six cents an acre for their land as set out in the treaty.

Treaty Rights

Due to termination, the Menominee have had to pursue legal means to preserve the rights reserved in certain treaties. Termination was a federal policy revoking a tribe’s right to exercise its sovereignty as a federally recognized Indian tribe. The state of Wisconsin assumed that when Congress took away Menominee federal recognition and their reservation as part of the termination program in 1954, tribal members no longer had the right to hunt and fish without restriction in the Wolf River. In 1968, the United States Supreme Court ruled Termination did not end the tribe's reserved treaty rights. Therefore, the Menominee had the right to hunt and fish in the portion of the Wolf River running through their reservation without being hindered by state laws and regulations. In 1973, the Menominee regained federal recognition, restoring their sovereign powers as a nation and their undisputed right to regulate hunting and fishing on their reservation.

The Menominee have not achieved such success in subsequent lawsuits. The land cessions in 1831, 1836, and 1848 amounted to about 9.5 million acres. In 1995, the tribe filed suit in federal court protesting that when they sold this land to the United States, they never gave up the right to hunt, fish, and gather on these lands. The 1831 Treaty reserved their right to hunt and fish on the ceded land, but only until the land had been sold by the United States to other parties. Neither the 1836 nor 1848 treaties contained provisions of this type. The tribe argued that the federal treaty commissioners who negotiated the Menominee treaties had led tribal leaders to believe that they would retain the right to continue to hunt, fish, and gather on the ceded lands. Under federal law, if treaty commissioners led Indian tribes to believe they retained certain rights, they were indeed reserved even if the treaties did not specifically make provisions for them. The Menominee argued that this was the case in all of their land cession treaties.

In 1996, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb (who decided many of the Ojibwe treaty rights cases in the 1980s) stated the federal government had never led the Menominee to believe that they retained the right to hunt, fish, and gather on their ceded lands, therefore the Menominee have no reserved rights to these lands today. Although the tribe initially promised to appeal Crabb's decision, the tribe has considered dropping their federal suit due to the expenses involved in litigation.