Course:CONS370/Projects/Aboriginal forestry on the Menominee Reservation in Menominee, Wisconsin, USA

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This wiki page describes the history, legislation, and people involved in forestry operations on the Menominee Reservation in Menominee, Wisconsin, USA. The Menominee Reservation forest has supported the Menominee economy for over 160 years, and has been meticulously managed by the Menominee for sustainability and diversity for centuries[1]. Like most indigenous peoples in the U.S., the Menominee's history has been intertwined with U.S. government policy and action, which has both helped and hurt the Menominee since the 1800s[2]. The Menominee have been very successful with their forestry practice and have won numerous awards for sustainability and community involvement over the years[2].



Map of Wisconsin with Menominee Reservation marked in red.

The Menominee Reservation was established by treaty on May 12, 1854 in northeast Wisconsin, USA[3]. It is located about 60 kilometers northwest of Green Bay, WI, and is situated between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi river[3][2]. The reservation spans about 95,000 hectares and 95% is covered by forest, though this area is just a small fraction of the Menominee ancestral lands (about 3.8 million hectares) which they had occupied for centuries prior to reservation establishment[3][2]. Of these 95,000 hectares, about 88,000 are productive forestland, around 63% of which is considered fully stocked[3]. As of 2016, their forest held an estimated 1.9 billion board feet of lumber, an increase from the estimated 1.2 billion board feet which was standing in 1854, and a greater species diversity than existed in 1854 as well[1][4]. Between 1854 and 1996, about 2.5 billion board feet of sawn timber was harvested from the forest which is home to 33 tree species, including white pines, hemlocks, oaks and hickories[1][3][5]. This land is also an important sanctuary for wildlife, including bears, wolves, owls and trout[1][5].

The Menominee people, or the Manominini' niwuk, meaning "wild rice men," have managed their forests sustainably for centuries with emphasis on preserving old-growth and species diversity[1][2]. Unlike most indigenous groups in the U.S., the Menominee were able to establish their sustainability practices in law through the LaFollette Act[4]. Though these values take precedence over economical gain for the Menominee, their self-sufficiency is dependent on forestry and without it, the Menominee would lack a distinct economy[5][2]. Their timber use has evolved from cutting timber for fuel, homes and fences to commercial logging, the proceeds from which are used to support education, health and law enforcement, among other community operations[2][3]. Today, the Menominee economy is further supported by a tribal casino and hotel complex, as well as state and federally-sourced funds[2]. The combined success of forestry and casino operations on the reservation has improved employment and even facilitated a migration of Menominee people returning to the reservation[4]. Since establishment, the Menominee population living on the reservation has grown from 2,000 inhabitants to over 4,500[3][2].

History of Government Relations

The Menominee people were relatively fortunate in their relationship with the federal government; they were able to maintain their forest management style while influencing indigenous federal policy more than most other tribes in the U.S. at the time[4]. Commercial logging began on the reservation in 1890, following the passing of the General Allotment Act in 1887 which aimed to divide land communally owned by indigenous groups into sections which would be allotted to individual community members for the purpose of developing individually-owned farms[2][4]. The Menominee resisted this legislation because their densely-forested land was better suited for forestry than agriculture and the communal ownership of land is a key value in Menominee culture[4]. Their lobbying was successful in stopping the division of their land, and in 1890, Congress allowed the Menominee to harvest 20 million board feet per year in addition to harvesting dead and downed trees, beginning their commercial logging venture[2].

The Menominee operated successfully following this authorization until a cyclone blew down the equivalent of 20-30 million board feet of timber in 1906, sparking a fight to convince Congress to finance a new mill[2]. The Menominee succeeded in 1908 when Robert LaFollette, a Wisconsin senator, stopped a bill which would allow private companies to access the blown down wood, and the LaFollette Act was passed[4]. This Act summarized the key points of the Menominee's sustainable forestry practices and allowed them to establish a tribal mill[4]. It also provided the basis for the Menominee to sue the federal government in 1934 when the U.S. Forest Service violated the sustainable mandates for logging on the Menominee reservation, a case which the Menominee won almost 20 years later[4].

Though the Menominee avoided division of their land in 1890, their reservation was one of the first to be terminated as a "domestic dependent nation" in 1954 when the federal government sought to remove reservations from federal protection[3][4]. This caused great financial stress on the Menominee, causing the new Menominee county to become the poorest county in the state and threatening their commitment to sustainable forestry[2]. At this time, Menominee Tribal Enterprises was established to run the logging operation[3]. The Menominee's reservation status was eventually restored in 1973 after extensive protesting by the DRUMS (Determination of the Rights and Unity of Menominee Shareholders) grassroots movement[2].

Tenure arrangements


Before the U.S. was established, the Menominee reigned over their massive territory, an area referred to as the prehistoric Lake States forest, which spanned much of modern day Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois[1]. Starting in 1831, the federal government enacted several treaties with the Menominee which repeatedly reduced the size of their territory, eventually settling on their current reservation in 1854[1]. The Menominee initially did not have authorization from the U.S. government to cut live trees on their land, as the government only allowed living reservation trees to be harvested to clear land for agriculture[4]. Following the Menominee's lobbying, however, they gained permission from Congress to cut 20 million board feet per year on their reservation in 1890[4].

Menominee Tribal Enterprises Logo

This land has been communally owned by the Menominee for most of their post-reservation history, save for 1954-1973 when the U.S. government terminated their reservation status citing that they were no longer dependent on the government, and therefore should not receive tax exemption, federal protection and other benefits of reservation status[4]. During this time, Menominee sovereignty was revoked and the ownership of their forestland was transferred to Menominee Tribal Enterprises Inc. (MTE)[3]. At one point, MTE partnered with a land developer who sold portions of this land to non-indigenous people for vacation homes and the DRUMS movement's protests of these land sales led to the restoration of the Menominee's sovereignty with the Restoration Act of 1973[4][6]. Because of these land sales, some private property is held by non-Menominees within the area now dubbed Menominee County[7]. This has created a confusing and controversial relationship between the Menominee Tribe and these property owners, complicating politics in the area[7].

Present Day

Today, the Menominee have sovereign power and rights to land use regulation on their reservation[6]. Members of the Menominee tribe have sole use and occupancy rights to their reservation, otherwise called beneficial title, while the U.S. government holds the legal title to the land and oversees the Menominee's trust[1]. Recently, the Menominee have battled the U.S. government for resource use rights on land they ceded, citing that they had not surrendered these rights when they sold the land in previous treaties[6]. However, in 1996, a federal judge ruled that the Menominee held no reserved rights to their ceded land[6].

Administrative arrangements

This is a map of the Menominee forest depicting forest cover types and management compartments.

The Menominee Indian Reservation was created by a treaty on May 12, 1854 following several prior treaties and land cessions[3][2][4]. Although it was a small portion of their traditionally occupied land, this treaty gave the Menominee control of the 234,000 acres they currently occupy[3].[2] Due to mounting pressure from non-members of the reservation who wanted access to Menominee timber, a decision was made to encourage indigenous lumbering, and, in 1871 the Menominee tribe organized a lumber camp, providing both jobs and lumber for the reservation[2].

In 1890, the Menominee tribe began a commercial logging operation, and in 1908 Senator Robert La Folette was instrumental in getting the passage of an Act which resulted in the construction of a modern steam mill which represented the best available technology at the time[3]. Although the mill was managed by non-indigenous peoples, by the 1950s it employed somewhere between 350 and 550 workers, most of whom were indigenous[2]. In 1954 the Menominee Termination Act was passed and the Menominee Indian Reservation became a county in 1961[3][2]. Tribal forest land was transferred to Menominee Tribal Enterprises Inc. (MTE) which was run by three tribal members and 4 non-indigenous persons[2]. This transfer was made on the condition that the lands be managed under sustained-yield principles and gave governance powers back to the Menominee Tribal Council[3].

Nearly two decades later in 1973, Congress recognized that the termination policy was substandard and passed the Menominee Restoration Act, restoring the Menominee people’s status as a federally recognized tribe[3][2]. Since then, forest and logging operations have been run by MTE (now referred to as the “business arm" of the Menominee Tribal Council) while the management of timber types on the reservation is run by foresters from MTE, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources[2][4]. Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs has the responsibility of ensuring compliance with sustained yield principles, final land-use authority is held by the Menominee tribal council[2].

MTE is run by an elected board of directors from diverse backgrounds and has more than 125 employees[2]. The president is paid just over three times as much as the lowest paid employee and 95 percent of tribal mill employees have never worked anywhere else[2]. Within the tribe there are management families, logging families, mill families, and kiln families in such a fashion that may be viewed as a contemporary version of traditional clan relations[2].


Affected Stakeholders

There are three main affected stakeholder groups within the Menominee tribe: the Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE), the Menominee Tribal Council, and the Menominee people themselves[2][4]. Although these groups can be considered as separate, they all have the same general relevant objectives because they all align with the Menominee value system. These objectives include protecting the wellbeing of the Menominee people and their land[4]. All three of these groups also have the same relative power because of the way that Menominee political processes are organized; for a major change in direction to occur, broad consensus is needed within the tribe[4]. Menominee Tribal Council tradition states that each of the tribe’s institutions must listen to voices who wish to be heard, and this translates into an equal voice for every Menominee person whether they are a tribal leader, mill manager, or general laborer[4].

In addition to the groups mentioned above, the trees and animals of the Menominee reservation may be considered to be affected stakeholders, as it is a Menominee belief that all non-humans have a spirit, like humans[4]. Because these spirits create powers that need to be respected, they also hold a significant amount of power in the Menominee community[4].

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The Government

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are the two branches of government currently involved with the Menominee reservation[2]. The main objectives of the Menominee people are to support their people and protect their land, and both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have worked towards this objective as well as worked away from it[2][4]. Whether or not the government worked in the Menominee tribe's favour depended on which heads of government were in power at the time[2][4]. Since the Menominee Restoration Act was passed and the Menominee were given rights to self determination in 1973, the government has mostly worked to help the Menominee reach their goals[2][4]. Currently, power is held by the government in a supervisory capacity to ensure sustainable yield standards, though the Menominee Tribal Legislature holds ultimate power in terms of land use rights[2].


Consumers of MTE timber want to ensure that they receive a quality product, and MTE wants to earn profit from the sale of their timber, so the objectives of the two parties align[4]. Power is held relatively equally between the two parties as 90 percent of MTE's processed lumber goes to long-time domestic customers who pay ten to twenty percent higher than market price to ensure consistent delivery of high-quality wood from the mill[4].

The Intertribal Timber Council (ITC)

The Intertribal Timber Council was formed in 1976 to advocate for Indigenous forestry practices[4]. Because the Menominee were one of the initial members of the governing board, they have some power in determining the regulations which are place upon their timber mill, and the goals of the ITC generally align with those of the Menominee[4]. The ITC is funded primarily by the Bureau of Indian Affairs resulting in the bureau having a significant amount of influence in the decisions of the ITC, so the ITC must move slowly when advocating for their needs[4]. Within the ITC, policy proposals are sourced from the sovereign powers of individual tribes, and the ITC only attempts to affect federal policy when consensus is reached among its members[4].

Gambling Operations

There is now a gambling operation on the Menominee reservation that makes a significant contribution to their economy, employing 350 to 400 tribe members[4]. Despite its success, the Menominee economy remains forestry-based, and without the forest and mill, a distinct economy would not exist on the reservation[4].


Aerial photograph of Red River and Hemlock and Burney Lakes on the Menominee Reservation. Old-growth forest is visible surrounding these features.

Aim and Intentions of the Menominee Forest

The Menominee people manage their forest by never taking more than what the forest can regenerate[1]. Furthermore, they're inclined to balance their operations between environment, community and economy. Embedded in the Menominee culture, these beliefs foster a sustainable environment for plants, animals and humans[1][8]. The Menominee practice sustainable forest management and maintain a diversity by ensuring that different species are able to become established and thrive in the forest. The Menominee don’t strategically aim to grow plant and tree species that are valuable on the market, they maintain species for diversity, regardless of financial worth[5]. This way of thinking allows them to keep a healthy ecological forest that will last for future generations, while also reserving the ability to harvest timber, should the need arise[5]. Menominee Tribe Enterprise (MTE) is committed to applying sustainable forest practices in order to provide consistently superior wood-based products while serving the needs of their forest, employees, wood products customers, tribal community, and future generations[9].

Critical Issues Timeline

Before the arrival of professional indigenous forestry in North America in 1890, the Menominee people had already learned how to manage their forest to ensure long-lasting access to hunting, fishing, gathering and collecting medicinal herbs[1]. Colonialism and forestry policy, implemented by the United-States Government, had and continues to have an impact on how the Menominee people live[10]. Around the 1870s, the Menominee tribe felt pressure from colonizers who wanted access to their natural resources[2]. The tribe resisted this possibility through lobbying and representation, which influenced the decision to encourage Indian lumbering. From this negotiation, the Menominee acquired a sawmill which still exists today and continues to provide both jobs and lumber to the tribe[2].

During the period of indigenous land division by the U.S. government (1885 - 1934) the integrity of the forest and the collective land base were threatened by the possibility of converting this land to individually-owned plots for agriculture development[2][10]. Menominee resisted this Act by proving that their land was more suitable for forestry than agriculture[10].

In 1906, a cyclone blew down a massive haul of timber. In response, the U.S. government built a new mill that heated homes with its steam[2]. Proceeds from the mill supported a local hospital[2]. After an evaluation of the mill operations around this time, the Menominee decided to sue the federal government for violating the sustainability guidelines outlined in the Lafollette Act[2][4]. During the period leading up to termination, Congress told the Menominee that they would only get the money from this lawsuit if they accepted the termination of their reservation, without detailing what termination meant[2]. This could be the biggest issue the Menominee encountered, because it led to the termination of their reservation and imposed upon them national and State economic requirements, such as state property taxes and a new corporation holding the land of the former Menominee Tribe[2]. The Menominee reacted to this by making a petition against the Termination, because it was their desire to maintain a communally owned land base and not sell their land for recreational development[10]. Only 12 years after the Termination of their reservation, the Menominee had successfully modified the terms of the Menominee Termination Act to make it what they believe a concept of sustained yield should represent[10].

Relative Successes

The Menominee Tribe has received many awards since they reclaimed the management of their forest. One of their successes was to open their own mill for commercial logging in 1890[2]. This afforded them control over the complete life cycle of their wood products[4]. Because they are a federally-recognized sovereign nation, the Menominee can establish their own environmental protection standards. This status allows them to have stricter rules and laws that ensure sustainable forest practices and consequently, better conservation of the high-quality streams, rivers, lakes, soils and air[8].

Table 1. Awards given in relation to the management of the Menominee forest
Years Award Title Description
2018 The Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year The Menominee mill, which process wood coming from the Menominee forest, was rewarded this honour. This award recognizes manufacturer for outstanding achievement in areas such as export activity, profitable growth commitment to employees, commitment to total quality, investment in training and retraining, and commitment to community[11].
2015 FSC Leadership Award The Menominee mill responsible for managing the Menominee forest has been rewarded for its contribution to the movement toward responsible sourcing and forest management[12].
2008 Business Friend of the Environment Award Obtained by the Menominee mill, this title recognizes the effort of Wisconsin companies in the areas of sustainability, innovative technology and environmental stewardship[13]
1997 Smart Wood Certification The Menominee forest were the first to get this certification delivered by the Rainforest Alliance, which set the international standard for credibility in auditing environmentally and socially responsible forest management[14]
1996 Presidents Award for Sustainable Development This prize recognized achievement of sustainable management practices that integrate economic prosperity, ecological integrity and social equity at the Menominee mill[15]
1995 Mention The United Nations (UN) gave credit to the Menominee people for balancing land uses by adopting sustainable practices in their forest management, so future generations could have access to those resources[5].

The Menominee Indian Tribe are the proud owners of a sawmill that processes timber harvesting from their forest[8]. Moreover, they own a casino, an hotel centre and other companies, of which, 25% of the work force is directly involved in forest-based industries[8]. In relation to their forest, they have succeeded in implementing educational programs about how they manage the forest[8]. The Menominee forest is a strong pillar of the tribe that has proven to provide self-sufficiency to the tribe[2]. The success of sustainable forest management is shown by the volume standing today, which is greater than when timber harvesting began[1]

Relative Failures

For a long time, the Menominee tribe's sawmill was only processing sawn timber, which made the enterprise more vulnerable to market changes and limited profit, because they produced a limited variety of products[2][9]. This may be considered a relative failure. However, around 1975,they decided to modernize the sawmill and this improvement allowed them to process timber into more valuable and variable finished products[2][9]. This afforded the Menominee a more stable system that produced more value.


The Menominee people always fought for what they believe in and for who they are. They know how to negotiate with Congress and make use of their lobbying power. As the Menominee forest is a great example of sustainable forest management[5], it would be interesting if they expanded their knowledge of sustainability and diversity to empower First Nations and to inform non-indigenous groups in North America. If their beliefs and practices could reach more people, forests around the world could be healthier, which would have a great impact on the human life quality.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Mausel, David L.; Waupochick Jr., Anthony; Pecore, Marshall (2017). "Menominee Forestry: Past, Present, Future". Journal of Forestry. 115: 366–369. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":4" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 Pecore, M.; Nesper, L. (1993). "'The Trees Will Last Forever': The integrity of their forest signifies the health of the Menominee people". Cultural Survival Quarterly. 17 (1).
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 Burgess, Darwin (1996). "Forests of the Menominee - a commitment to sustainable forestry". The Forestry Chronicle. 72: 268–275.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 4.27 4.28 4.29 4.30 4.31 4.32 4.33 4.34 Trosper, R. L. (2007). "Indigenous influence on forest management on the Menominee Indian Reservation". Forest Ecology and Management. 249 (1): 134–139.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Johnson, C.; Johnson, B. (2012). "Menominee Forest Keepers". American Forests.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Milwaukee Public Museum. "Menominee Treaties and Treaty Rights".
  7. 7.0 7.1 Stanfield, D. (2010). Notes of the History of Menominee Land Tenure and Management. Terrain Institute Ltd.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Kanahwihtahquaq, M. (1997). "Menominee Tribal Enterprises - The Forest Keepers" (PDF). Menominee Tribal Enterprises.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Menominee Tribal Enterprises - The Forest Keepers". 2020.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Ronald, L. (2007). "Indigenous influence on forest management on the Minominee Indian Reservation". Forest Ecology and Management. 249: 134–139.
  11. Wisconsin Manufacturer and Commerce (2018). "Manufacturer of the Year".
  12. The Forest Stewardship Council (2019). "2019 FSC Leadership award winners".
  13. Wisconsin Manufacturer and Commerce (2020). "Bussiness Friend of the Environment Awards".
  14. First Nations Development Institute (2002). "Forest Certification on Tribal Land" (PDF).
  15. Council on Sustainable Development (1996). "The President's Sustainable Development Award Program".

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