The Menominee view themselves as the forest’s stewards, never taking more resources than are produced within natural cycles so that the forest’s biodiversity can be sustained. They also believe that rewards can’t be measured in financial terms alone, but in environmental, cultural and spiritual values. As a result, the forest managers allow some trees to reach full maturity before being harvested, while permitting others to age indefinitely to protect thriving stands of oldgrowth white pine and sugar maple. Using this principle, the Menominee have harvested a half billion board feet of lumber since the mid 1800s — yet, today, they have more standing timber than 150 years ago.
Throughout history, the Menominee have had to battle the federal government to keep control of their forest. Soon after they fought and won the right to their own reservation in 1854, the Menominee purchased a small sawmill to cut and process lumber. “Most people think that it must have been unfathomable to the traditional Menominees to cut the trees,” Pecore explains, “but they saw that they could do something to survive. They switched over to logging easily because they had been managing the forest all along.”
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Menominee had to battle the policies of various governmental agencies to manage the forests their way and to achieve greater self-sufficiency. In 1905, according to Pecore, “There was a big blowdown of hardwoods, of sugar maples. The Menominee wanted to build a new sawmill and cut the salvage logs.” They faced resistance in Congress, but Wisconsin Senator “Fighting Bob” LaFollette helped enact a 1908 law that allowed them to build the mill.
From the 1950s into the 1970s, the Menominee people faced further threats when the federal government terminated the reservation as a way to promote assimilation of the tribe into the mainstream culture. The reservation became a county, and to raise funds for infrastructure, the tribe was forced to sell parts of their ancestral lands to developers. During this period, the Menominee felt that they were losing their culture and vigorously protested the policy. In 1973, Congress ended the disastrous experiment with the passage of the Menominee Restoration Act, which restored Menominee lands to reservation status.