Menominee Portrait Dedication & Frechette Memorial

Role of the Menominee Clans Committee

A presentation by Ed Marks, Curator
UWSP Museum of Natural History

at the Menominee Portraits Dedication and
Memorial for James F. Frechette, Jr.
April 21, 2007

Authenticity is a principal goal for all museums.  Museums have the real thing.  All information and presentations must be accurate.  The public trusts and expects that museum exhibitions are authentic and accurate, without bias, without editorial.  

Museums rely on actual documents and trained experts to ensure authenticity.  In our own Museum of Natural History we have consulted with astronomers, geologists, botanists, wildlife specialists and anthropologists for decades to make sure that content and presentation provide visitors with unbiased programs and exhibitions.  There are no faculty members or staff at UWSP that have an understanding of the complex Menominee Clans Story.  This is true for the UW System and the State Historical Society as well.  I am not being negative in saying this; it is just a fact. 

In February of 2006, an employee of the State Historical Society asked permission to use photos of Jim Frechette’s carved figures for a State publication.  A simple request quickly became involved.  Dr. Bobbie Malone, Director of the Office of School Services for the Wisconsin Historical Society drove up to UWSP and met with the Menominee Clans Committee.  Dr. Malone learned that many errors were made when discussing the Menominee clans in a Wisconsin history textbook published by the State Historical Society.  The text was made available to schools in Wisconsin.  The Menominee Clans Committee then reviewed and corrected draft material for a new edition of the text.  Dr. Malone graciously accepted the changes and thanked the committee assuring members that the new addition would reflect the changes.  Dean Grahn, upon hearing of Dr. Malone’s visit said that he thought this collaboration between the Menominee Clans Committee and Dr. Malone should be included in our museum’s annual report.

Jim Frechette collaborated with UWSP early on.  He and others in the 1970’s established the Native American Center on campus.   By 1986 Jim had an agreement with the UWSP Foundation to create ten clan figures with more to follow.   The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990 required that institutions receiving federal funds compile and distribute a list of their holdings to appropriate native groups.  Museums feared the worst.  To the surprise and delight of many, museums and tribal groups developed new relationships working together on programs and exhibitions.  The Menominee Clans Committee collaborating for over twenty years with UWSP has produced authentic Menominee clans figures, portraits and cultural information found on the Menominee Clans Story website. 

Jim learned from his elders, who learned from their elders, who learned from their elders.  The Menominee Clans Committee now carries on where Jim left off.  The display case behind you holds several historic books that document traditional Menominee culture.  The Menominee Clans Committee recommends these books and other materials listed on the Menominee Clans website. 

Any future programs or exhibitions on Menominee clans must have the Menominee Clans Committee at the center of planning and development to guarantee continued authenticity.  The Menominee Clans Story derives and maintains its authenticity through the Menominee Clans Committee.  The Menominee Clans Committee must select its own successors.  There should be no university appointees to the Committee.  I as curator work closely with the Committee but am not actually a member since I have little knowledge of the Menominee Clans system.  New members, selected by the Menominee Clans Committee, will assure that the Menominee Clans Story remains authentic for another generation and hopefully for generations to come. UWSP does not need to control the Menominee Clans Committee, rather, this University has an opportunity to support and open doors for the Committee.  We have demonstrated that collaboration leads to grand results. 

I would like to conclude with a personal word about the Menominee portraits.  I like to think of the portraits you will soon see as depicting real people who lived here 180 years ago.  Many of them would have passed near here perhaps through this very spot.  These Menominee knew their clan and their clan obligations.  They knew who they were. The flute music you hear today would have been familiar to them.  The portraits, the flute music and the clans figures connect and fit together as a whole.    All this was made possible through the vision and effort of Jim Frechette with the Menominee Clans Committee and a long list of University and community people who worked together for the past twenty years.