RESTORATION REVISITED

CMN play recounts rough piece of history for new generation
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski College of Menominee Nation students reenact the day that the Menominee Restoration Act was signed on Dec. 22, 1973, which is shown in a black-and-white image in the background, in a scene from the play ““Menominee Restoration Day: Reader’s Theatre That Helps Us Remember.” Shown at the signing are, from left, back row, Curtis Wilhelmi, Lillian Martinez, Natalie Ninham, Brandon Boyd and Adrienne Tucker; front row, Thomas Seidler and Evelynn Grignon.

The day that the Menominee Nation was terminated as a federally recognized tribe was a dark day in history for the Menominee people, while the day the tribe’s federal rights were restored was a day of joy.

Many of the elders remember the tumultuous period when the tribe wasn’t recognized and the efforts that they made to remedy the situation, but it is not something that springs to mind for the reservation’s youth.

With that in mind, the College of Menominee Nation is producing a play, “Menominee Restoration Day: Reader’s Theatre That Helps Us Remember,” to educate the next generation about how the Menominee tribe lost its status and how it was regained.

CMN is performing shows for Menominee Indian High School and Menominee Tribal School during school hours, but it is also putting on a community show Dec. 6.

Ryan Winn, who teaches English and theater, said he was asked by some of the tribal elders to write the play.

“The idea was to talk about the meaning behind restoration, especially since the tribe was restored in 1973, and so this idea of understanding what that meant and what termination was, especially for the younger generation, was important,” Winn said. “Also, it’s to appreciate what went into the restoration plan and the tribal constitution that the legislature is currently acting on.”

Winn was asked to craft the play to utilize Menominee traditional storytelling methods similar to the pageants put on by the tribe decades. There are three main characters who serve as narrators, he said, through a discussion. One is learning, while the other two are sharing the events of the past.

On another part of the stage, reenactments are going on. The reenactments use precise quotes from historical figures.

“Any quote I used for the play I found in a published source,” Winn said. “I may have a quote from Ada Deer or Sylvia Wilber or Chief Oshkosh or Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon. These are the actual things they said or released in print media.”

Winn spent a lot of time on research, making sure that many of the lines in the script were specifically from real-life remarks. He said he didn’t feel comfortable making up the words for a play designed to educate about Restoration Day.

“As far as the interpretation went, there was a lot of going back and interviewing and finding out what terms were used,” Winn said. “For example, if you go back and read the pageants, they often say the Menominee were diplomats, which was a lot different than saying someone was a peacemaker. It’s a subtle but very important distinction.”

Diplomacy played a key part in many points of Menominee history, according to Winn.

“The Menominee went more with diplomacy, rather than rising up in conflict, to ensure they were able to keep their lands, keep their families safe, and to maintain as much as they could their way of life,” Winn said.

Winn noted that the Menominee had to use diplomacy in order to get the Menominee Restoration Act moving forward in Congress. U.S. Rep. Harold Froehlich, from Appleton, would not even put the act to Congress for a vote without some concessions being made on property at Legend Lake that he owned, Winn said.

Termination had been championed by lawmakers in the late 1940s. Sen. Arthur Watkins, of Utah, used the Menominee as the first example of termination after the Menominee won a lawsuit against the federal government for mismanagement of the forest, Winn said.

Winn said that, because the tribes were under federal supervision, Congress still had to approve any payout to the tribe, and Watkins stipulated he would only champion the payout if the Menominee agreed to termination.

“He believed — and this is a quote — that the Menominee were already five-sixths assimilated into modern Amercian way of life,” Winn said. “He said things like Congress had already terminated the Menominee tribe, which wasn’t true.”

The Menominee Termination Act was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower on June 17, 1954, and the tribe had to come up with its own termination plan and spend its own money to create that plan. Winn said the tribe was informed that, if it didn’t do so, the American government would do it for them.

“It’s a dizzying concept to try to wrap one’s head around,” he said. “There were more than 100 tribes and bands terminated, and more than 1.3 million acres of land removed from federal trust protection, and it was about the land.”

Because the Menominee people were the first to be terminated, there was no road map for how the tribe was to come up with a plan, Winn said. Originally slated for four years after the act was signed, the Menominee received additional one-year extensions until the place was completed in 1961.

The Menominee were also the first to get tribal status restored when President Richard Nixon signed the Restoration Act on Dec. 22, 1973. Winn noted that, even though Nixon’s status in overall history is one of disgrace because of Watergate, his signing to restore the tribes makes him one of the more honorable presidents to tribes like the Menominee.

“He was wonderful for native people,” Winn said.

All of this will be rolled into the play for audiences to learn and remember, along with the work that the Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Stockholders (DRUMS) group and the Menominee Restoration Committee did to create the modern Menominee society just north of Shawano.

“There were about 1,000 members in DRUMS that either publicly or secretly worked together to change Menominee history and helped the Restoration Plan,” Winn said. “All of the ones that I spoke to were very humble about their role.”