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Reflections on Menominee Restoration

On Dec. 22, 2003 the Menominee Indian Tribe celebrated the 30th anniversary
of President Nixon's signing of the Menominee Restoration Act, which
re-granted the tribe federal recognition nearly 20 years after Congress
terminated us. The prevailing theory at that time was if Congress can
terminate us then they can restore us. This was one of the biggest Indian
policy reversals in history and came just a few short years after the
return of Taos Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The one common
denominator between the Menominee and Taos legislation was Senator Fred
Harris and his wife LaDonna, for both proved to be invaluable allies and
taught us that unrelenting determination can prevail over ill-fated federal
Indian policy.

Menominee Restoration gave testament to our tribe's long history of
resiliency. So as we celebrate this modern-day victory we can't forget that
it was a time-honored tradition among our leaders not to accept fate, but
to create destiny. It was visionary leaders of the past, like those in the
1850s who refused to relocate our people to Minnesota that enlivened the
resiliency among those members of a grassroots organization called
"Determination of Rights and Unity of Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS) to
persevere in the late '60s and ultimately rewrite history in the early
'70s. One of those early leaders was James (White) Washinawatok. Joan
Harte, a Menominee who helped organize DRUMS in Chicago recently said, "The
truth of the matter is that Jim was the visionary and if it weren't for him
restoration would not have happened." Sadly, Jim is no longer with us, but
his memory lives on in the community even though he has been forgotten in
many of the historical accounts from that era. If you were to believe these
accounts and modern day myth, you would think Ada Deer single-handedly
orchestrated Menominee Restoration, when in truth there were legions of
Menominees who sacrificed greatly for our collective good.

Nothing speaks more to the role Jim played in the early '70s than a series
of photos taken during that era by George Ortez, who documented many of the
Indian events in Washington, D.C. In those photos from 1972, you find Jim
at many receptions and in the company of Senator Fred Harris and his wife
LaDonna. She too speaks of Jim's commanding presence and ability to
articulate the tribe's vision. Due to some personal challenges Jim didn't
retain his leadership in DRUMS and was subsequently ostracized by that
movement, even though he put forth the vision that made restoration within
reach for our people. So as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Menominee
Restoration let's also remember Jim Washinawatok and honor his role in
reshaping Menominee and American history.

Last November Harvard's Honoring Nation's Project recognized with "High
Honors" the Menominee tribal legislature's relationship with the Menominee
Chicago Community Center. Menominee activism in Chicago has it roots in the
organizing DRUMS did in urban communities and on and near the present-day
reservation. In many respects, it is on Jim's shoulders we were able to
stand and accept this honor.

Jim's legacy lived on in much of the work his daughter Ingrid did around
indigenous tights nationally and internationally. Tragically, her life was
cut short, but a new generation has stepped forward and his namesake has
graduated from law school and now interns at the National Congress of
American Indians, extending Jim's example of leadership.

Today, I have the honor of serving on the Menominee tribal legislature,
which is the tribe's nine member governing council. I serve in my mother's
shadow, for she served on the Menominee Advisory Committee in the 1950s, on
the Menominee Enterprises, Inc., board in the 1960s, on the Menominee
County Board in the 1970s and on Feb. 9, 1979, she was elected to the first
Menominee tribal legislature, where she went on to serve four separate
terms and was elected tribal chairman five times. It is her legacy that
enabled me to step forward and serve my people and champion many of the
same issues that were near and dear to her.

My generation shouldn't take too much for granted, for those who have gone
before us made significant sacrifices for our collective wellbeing. For
this I am grateful. Let's celebrate the 30th anniversary year of Menominee
Restoration and celebrate all those who made it reality.

Michael Chapman serves on the Menominee tribal legislature and is a partner
in RedWind Consulting, a national consulting firm devoted to assisting
tribal entities with organizational management, fundraising and public
relations. He can be reached via e-mail at mcnative@aol.com.