Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
December 11, 1999

The Legacy of Chief Oshkosh
by Ondamitag

Chief Oshkosh

Can you see the forest for the trees?

Chief Oshkosh could. He was a chief of the Omaeqnominniwuk (People of the Wild Rice), more commonly known as the Menominee Nation. In his life, he led his people to oppose their removal from what is today East Central Wisconsin. The city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin is named after him.

Chief Oshkosh in his life saw the beginning of how the Timber Barons treated the land. He saw how greed would devastate the land.

In 1854 the Menominee made its Reservation Treaty with the US Government. The Menominee land base shrank from over 10 million acres to a current 235,000 acres.

Chief Oshkosh implored his people to be selective in their use of the forest and to have a sustainable yield. He asked his people to cut slowly from one side of the reservation to the

other. He also implored them to learn how to use the woods like the wild rice. His approach stood in stark contrast to how timbering was done then. The current practices of still do… the Menominee manage the forest for 46 variety of trees. They heeded Chief Oshkosh and learned that diversity in species is another key to sustainability.

They have learned and are a shining example to the rest of humanity of how to approach forest management. Today the tribe limits annual harvest to 29 million board feet and because of that, what in 1854 contained 1.2 billion board feet today contains 1.7 billion board feet. In the intervening years the Menominee have harvested 2.25 billion board feet have been harvested from the same acreage. The backbone to the Tribal economy has been its forest product industry. In 1907 the Menominee even built their own sawmill.

It has not been an easy path for Oshkosh's people. In 1908 the Federal Government through the U. S. Forest Service began managing the Menominee forest. In 1930 the Menominee sued the Federal Government for mismanaging the forest, because they were letting the forest sit and did not harvest anything. The Menominee won the case in 1954 and 7 million dollars. In 1961 the Federal Government 'terminated' the Menominee and made the reservation Menominee County under the control of the State of Wisconsin. This was the greatest of disasters. The tribe had to start selling land to pay property taxes on their forest, this lead to deeper poverty and anguish. In 1974, through a very powerful movement the Menominee regained tribal status. They continue to manage their forest and repair the damage of it recent history.

In my time I have learned a few other interesting things about this forest. From space the astronaut can tell exactly where the reservation is. It is a patch of green in a mottled background. Also, NASA and the Air Force use the very northwest corner of the reservation to calibrate some of their space born equipment. Oshkosh's Legacy is painted on the surface of this planet as a shining example of what can happen when human beings think beyond their pockets and into the concept of what is good for the future.

I have seen enough bad forestry practices to realize that the Menominee are the only people that are headed down the right path. In this country the U. S. Forest Service is a part of the Agriculture Department. I wonder if we will ever recognize the only people that are qualified to 'manage' our forests are the Menominee. Just maybe, their will come a time that humanity will recognize that the Menominee are to people to steward all the forests of this land.

The Legacy of Chief Oshkosh is one that the rest of the world is just opening its' eyes to. I hope it is not too late.

This is the Wolf-Fox river watershed as seen from earth orbit. The Wolf River flows south through the Menominee Reservation, whose distinct straight boundaries outline heavy forests--a result of the tribe's sustainable forestry practices. The Wolf flows south into Lakes Poygan and Butte des Morts, where it joins with the north-flowing Fox River. The Upper Fox empties into Lake Winnebago, and the Lower Fox then emerges out the northern end of the lake, to empty into Green Bay

If you want to read what the Menominee themselves have to say about this, here are a couple of links.
Menominee Tribal Enterprises' Forestry Department Home Page

Concept of Sustainable Forestry

If you want to read other articles about this subject, here is a link to a list the Menominee's supply.
Menominee Tribal Enterprises' Articles Index

To Learn more about the Menominee Nation visit these sites
Menominee Culture - Indian Country Wisconsin

Menominee Tribe


back to the What's New page


Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.

Canku Ota is a copyright of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the Copyright © 1999 of Paul C. Barry. All Rights Reserved.