In the woods along the Menominee River, Guy Reiter lead a gathering to honor and protect his ancestral homeland.
For the Wisconsin Menominee Indian Tribe, the effort to stop a mine from being built on the river bank where their nation began is part of a struggle to preserve their culture that has lasted for centuries.
“We’ve lived here longer than anyone else,” Reiter said, “for 10,000 years”
The riverbank that holds the ancestral burial grounds of Menominee tribespeople was part of a cessation treaty in 1836 that reduced their nation’s land by millions of acres. After 7 treaties with the United States Government starting in the 1800’s, the Menominee tribe’s land was reduced from 10 million acres to just 235,000 today.
The sovereignty of the Menominee nation was terminated in 1954, and their tribe was no longer recognized by the United States Government.
This intimate experience of cultural loss gives the Menominee an urgent perspective on environmental destruction.
“We are of the land” Reiter said, “It’s not something that’s external to ourselves”
Indigenous people have been part of a growing movement to protect the world’s natural resources from dangerous extraction policies. In North Dakota, tribes from as far as the Amazon, including the Menominee, traveled to show their support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as they struggled to protect their sacred land from a pipeline construction project.
For Reiter and other tribal leaders, this growing solidarity is a hopeful sign.
“It’s a beautiful thing” Reiter said, “To see people coming together like this.”
On December 22, 1973 the Menominee won a long fought battle to restore their national sovereignty. While their right to preserve their original homeland along the river is constantly threatened, the tribe believes they will succeed in their ongoing struggle.
As a father Reiter said he is afraid for the future of his children and his people.
On the burial grounds of their ancestors, the Menominee elders spoke of a seventh generation of indigenous people. This generation was prophesied to live in a time when all of creation would be threatened with destruction.
The Menominee people believe they are living in this time.
The job of their generation is to prepare. The elders said people will be looking for answers, and the seventh generation must be ready to teach them a better way life.
“I think sometimes people need to remember this is the only world we have” Reiter said, “you know it’s such a beautiful place here.”