Chief Oshkosh: Leader in Troubled Times | Wisconsin Biographies

See that beautiful
bright green forest? That’s a nation
inside a nation. The Menominee
live here today. This is the Menominee Nation
a long time ago. Other tribes
have come and gone, but the Menominee have always
been part of this land. About the time George
Washington was president, a young Menominee
named Oshkosh was born
of the bear clan. The forest wasn’t just a home
to the Menominee, it was
part of their family. It provided everything
the tribe needed; wood for their homes
and canoes, animals to hunt,
rivers full of fish and plants
for life-saving medicine. The forest and the Menominee
people took care of each other and protected each other
from harm. But great challenges were threatening
the Menominee nation. The United States was growing,
and wanted land. Lots of it. Settlers wanted
to clear it for farms and cut down trees
for lumber. The U.S. government
fought the British and native tribes
for control of the land. They also wrote complicated
treaties to get it. These treaties were
made to be hard to understand and many native people
thought they were agreeing to share their land,
not sell it. Tribes in the east
who were pushed off their land started moving in
on the Menominee nation and competing
for resources. Oshkosh, now a chief,
also realized that the Menominee couldn’t win
in battle against the U.S., so he tried to negotiate
with the U.S. government by sending warriors
to assist in conflicts with warring tribes. But even that
didn’t keep the United States satisfied for long, it kept coming back
for more, and more, and more, and more
land. Oshkosh and other leaders
kept negotiating to try to keep as much land
as they could but by 1848,
they had lost almost everything. Finally, the U.S.
pressured the Menominee to give up all the rest
of their territory, promising them a new home
in what is now Minnesota right between
two warring tribes. This new land
didn’t even have the plants the Menominee needed
for medicine. Oshkosh
realized that the move would mean the death
of his people, and he refused. The U.S. kept trying
to move them, but by 1856,
Oshkosh convinced the U.S. to sign a treaty preserving
235,000 acres along the Wolf River
for the Menominee. It was clear now that there
would be no Trail of Tears for Oshkosh’s people. Even though they had lost a lot,
the Menominee could now begin to rebuild
their home and forest. Oshkosh said to harvest trees
from west to east, only cutting down
old or sick trees and leaving the young trees
to grow for the future. This forestry system
worked so well that well,
there it is. You can see their healthy
green forest from space. Today, the Menominee
teach their system of sustainable forestry
all over the world. Thanks to Chief Oshkosh
and the Menominee people, the Menominee nation
and their magnificent forest are still around
for all of us to appreciate.

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