Manataka American Indian Council





 Menominee Clans

By the University of  Wisconsin-Stevens Point and James F. Frechette, Jr


The Clan System

Thirty-four clans, grouped into five distinct divisions called brothers, characterized traditional Menominee society in their homeland of what is now called Wisconsin. The Menominee Clans Story depicts a figure for each clan, plus a centerpiece set of six portraying the clans in council, along with the Menominee Genesis figures, The Great Light-Colored Bear, and The Golden Eagle.



The Menominee Clans Structure 

Menominee culture developed the clan system as a means to address vital issues that the tribe faced. The origin story has as its heart the description of the process whereby the clans came into being, their order and function within the society. It articulates the creation of five Brothers or principal clans as organs through which the culture flowed and-life attained meaning. Each Brother assumed specific responsibilities within the tribal whole; the culture manifested itself through their considered actions. As each assisted the culture, in turn, it sustained them.The Great Silvery White Bear.  The carving is on permanent display at the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wisconsin.  Click here to return to the home page.



The Little MenomineeThe Bear assumed the duties of civil administration throughout the tribe. The Eagle took as its lot war, fire carrying, and camp laborers. The Wolf pursued hunting, and the Crane construction obligations. The Moose accepted as his duty camp security, overseeing of the wild rice beds, supervising rice harvest and distribution. To some extent the Younger Brothers shared in these tasks, although most, in turn, had other specific obligations for their clan; the Sturgeon, for example, were Historians in addition to being Younger Brother to the Bear.



The Bear Clan

The Bear Clan, represented by the Maple, regulated civil affairs. TheThe Bear Clan is represented by the Maple pipe carried in the crook of his left arm signifies this obligation to the society and the heavy responsibilities it entailed. Incidentally, the bowl of the original pipe was carved from wood or from stone, usually pipestone, and had a wooden stem. As part of his duties, the Bear called the tribe to general council meetings and opened the deliberations that followed in an orderly procedure. He also watched over civil affairs to be certain things flowed smoothly.

He did not possess the power to compel by force or edict his wishes or fancies, for the Menominee culture alone served as the motivating ideal for the individual Menominee. A directive would fall to the ground unheard. A strong and vigorous culture elicited respect and a desire on the part of the members to sustain it by following its principles. Peace and relative order marked the affairs of traditional society, a phenomenon consistently reported by the earliest European explorers and settlers. Of course, this meant that the cultural systems had to be constantly worked at and vitalized to enable them to become significant. But the culture provided for this element too.

The Bear Clan is made up of the Bear, The Beaver - Anticipation of Spring, The Muskrat - Tapping of the Maples, The Otter - Collecting the Sap, The Sturgeon - The Gift of Mä'näbus, The Mud Turtle - Rendering the Maple Sugar, The Sunfish - The Craftsman, and The Porcupine - Preparing the Cache.  The Eagle Clan is represented by the Hickory

The Eagle Clan - The Warriors

The Eagle clan, represented by the Hickory,  took up war responsibilities, served as warriors, and worked as laborers. To the Menominee, peace was ideal and war disrupted it. They sought, if at all possible, to avoid battle. And when they fought, the war was in defensive terms, not offensive. Thus, to meet the difficulties posed by this intrusive factor, the Menominee focused the activity in this clan, a task with grave implications requiring much thought and careful reasoning about the issues. We must not overlook the fact that all male Menominee adults served as warriors, not merely members of the Eagle clan.


Clan members had the duty of planning military strategy, performing ceremonies associated with war, And ensuring that the tribe followed the activities associated with war-making. As a point of interest we note the Menominee did not have or use shields. As fire carriers they made certain fire would be available whether in travel, in camp, or in the village. They had a special way of ensuring this through use of a fire bundle where slow burning or smoldering punk wrapped in a covering would remain for a long time, ready to expose to air and fuel and burst into flames. Of course, this does not mean the clans of the Golden Eagle principal clan lit everyone's fire for them, but rather they saw to it that this important component of the ongoing life would be available. Perhaps, for example, in a camp they would start a fire so that all could obtain a light from it.


The Eagle Clan is made up of the the Golden Eagle - Fire Carrier-Warrior, The Crow - The Arrow Maker, The Raven - Making of the War Club, (The Red Tail Hawk - The Bow Maker), The Bald Eagle - Recounting the Conflict, The Fish Hawk (Osprey) - Craft of the Forger, The Sparrow Hawk (American Kestrel) - The Flint Knapper, The Winter Hawk (Marsh Hawk) - Preparation for Conflict, The Fork Tail Hawk (Swallow-Tail Kite) - Warrior's Quiver, and The Swift-Flying Hawk (Coopers Hawk) - Spearmaker

 The Wolf Clan is represented by the Basswood

The Wolf Clan  - The Harvesters

The Wolf Clan is represented by the Basswood.  The clan's primary obligation within Menominee culture revolved around hunting, or more properly, the harvest of resources, for the taking of fish, fowl, and game went far beyond recreation. As one of two harvesting clans (Moose was the other), its function was of central importance and encompassed a host of activities.

The Wolf Clan is made up of the The Wolf Clan  - The Harvesters, The Dog - The Hunter's Prize, The White Tail Deer - Provisions for the Hunt, The Fox - Preserving the Bounty, and The Pine Squirrel - The Toolmaker.

The Crane Clan  - The Menominee Scientists

The Crane Clan, represented by the Butternut, served as the Menominee scientists.The Crane Clan is represented by the Butternut With it the culture met a major problem in the tribe's life. Tribal members did not achieve their ends in life by direct contact with one another and with products of their natural world, but rather approached them indirectly through a system of objects, intermediaries as it were. Baskets held nuts, canoes carried fishermen, birch bark made bags, and stakes with interwoven laths of willow directed the movement of fish into traps. The culture held this feature of life to be of critical value and accordingly developed a tribal organ to address it. Songs, dances, prayers, rituals, designs, colors, stories, legends and many other features suffused the Crane duties to assist it in fulfilling tribal ends.


The Crane clan had to master the knowledge of making things out of the materials presented to it by nature and to be certain the tribe maintained this arduously obtained information, along with the many manufacturing techniques that the work required. In effect, the material basis of Menominee society fell to the lot of the Crane.

The Crane Clan is made up of the The Crane - Builders to the World, The Great Blue Heron - The Weir Builder, The Old Squaw Duck - The Trap Builder, The Coot - Birchbark Canoe Maker, The Loon - Dugout Canoe Maker, and The Turkey Buzzard - The Lodge Builder.

The Moose Clan  - The People of the Wild RiceThe Moose Clan is represented by the White Birch

The Moose Clan, represented by the White Birch, protected the wild rice beds during the growing season, supervised the harvest of the grain, and made certain the crop was equitably distributed among the members. In addition it provided camp security. The very name of the tribe, The People of the Wild Rice, suggests the key role wild rice played in the society, for the nutritious grain that grew in shallow waters of rivers and lakes throughout the ancestral lands provided an excellent, storable, food source. Accordingly much attention was given to the control of the resource and the management of the harvest.


The Moose Clan is made up of the The Moose - Preharvest Ceremony (Principal Clan), The Elk - The Water Carrier, Washing the Rice,  The Marten - Parching the Rice, The Fisher - Winnowing the Rice, and the The Raccoon - The Dancer, Hulling the Rice.  

© 2001 University of  Wisconsin-Stevens Point and James F. Frechette, Jr.


Recommended Reading
Hoffman, Walter James (1846-1899). The Menomini Indians. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970 (Reprint of the 1896 ed.)  (Landmarks in Anthropology)
Keesing, Felix Maxwell, (1902-1961).The Menomini Indians of Wisconsin; a study of three centuries of cultural contact and change.  Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939.

Jenks, Albert Ernest (1869-1953).  The Wild Rice Gatherers of the Upper Lakes: A Study in American Primitive Economics.   Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901. Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 19, part 2, pp. 1013-1160)

Smith, Huron Herbert (1883-1933). Ethnobotany of the Menomini Indians. Milwaukee, Board of Trustees, Public Museum, 1923.  (Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, v. 4, no. 1)

Bloomfield, Leonard (1887-1949).  Menomini Lexicon.  Edited by Charles F. Hockett.   Milwaukee : Milwaukee Public Museum Press, 1975.  (Milwaukee Public Museum Publications in Anthropology & History, no. 3)

Skinner, Alanson (1886-1925).  Material Culture of the Menominii.  New York Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1921.

Densmore, Frances (1867-1957). Menomini Music.  Washington, U.S. Government. Printing Office, 1932. (Bulletin of the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, 102 )

Skinner, Alanson (1886-1925).  Associations and Ceremonies of the Menomini Indians.  New York, The Trustees, 1915. (Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, v. 13, pt. 2)

John V. Satterlee (1852-?). Folklore of the Menomini Indians.  New York, The Trustees, 1915.   (Anthropological papers of the Amer. Museum of Natural History, v. 13, pt. 3)

Social Life and Ceremonial Bundles of the Menomini Indians. New York, The Trustees, 1913. (Anthropological papers of the Amer. Museum of Natural History, v. 13, pt. 1)

Recommended Web Sites

Index of Native American Museum Resources on the Internet. Text and Graphics Karen M. Strom.  ©1994-.  WWW Virtual Library - American Indians.  

Menomini Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.   Keshena, Wisconsin.  

Native American Links, General Resources College of Menominee Nation Library.

Native Americans - Internet Resources. Internet School Library Media Center, January 22, 2000. 

North American Indians:  Resources on the Internet.  By Margaret R. Dittemore.   Washington, D.C., Anthropology Outreach Office of the Smithsonian Institution.