Celebration of the Future
In unceasing rhythm season follows season. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter come and go in accordance with the principles of change. All of nature participates in the movement of life forces. In the autumn, migratory birds fly south in their sky darkening millions and return in the spring; fish spawn in the spring; trees blossom and bear fruit and nuts. Even the stars rotate in heaven in perceived fixed patterns. Plants, birds, animals, and insects are born, grow old, die, and their spirits join the shadows of their ancestors. Each species replaces the old members with new ones. So likewise do humans obey the same life principles as the rest of creation, for they are no different. Generation replaces generation.
The Menominee understood this universal feature of existence and treated it with the respect it deserved. It is the nature of life and not to be lamented. Out of their understanding came a realization of the importance of assuring that the eternal sequence of generations continued in a proper manner. They devised cultural forms to enable them not only to accommodate the process, but also to celebrate their part in the great scheme of things.
Each generation confronted numerous challenges it had successfully to meet if the nation was to continue. These included clan obligations, religious relationships, camp work, acquiring stories from the elders, and much more. To acquire the vital necessary learning, the culture put sophisticated systems in place for the Menominee to utilize. Those rooted in their special perspective on the nature of humans and of the environment.
The Menominee considered themselves as part of the natural world where they had their being. The life around they shared with all creation; the Menominee had a common world. As the Menominee examined the natural world, they discovered in marvelous detail how it functioned.
In the reproduction of the species they observed how living things mater. The golden eagle, male and female, met and went through an extraordinary mating ritual high above with aerial displays and tumbling, a thrill to watch. The prairie chicken, the partridge, and the ruff grouse put on a spring mating dance and display that struck all who witnessed and heard it as significant beyond just the primeval urge. The drumming of the partridge, the booming of the chicken, and the thumping of the grouse imparted a sense that mating went beyond the merely physical. Who was not pleased to awaken at dawn to the song of the courting birds?
Biologically, the Menominee belonged to the same natural world as the life forms they witnessed. Ought they not to participate in the mating process at the level above the ordinary physical process? Their structures dictated the manner in which one related to another and devised a complicated cultural relationship for the youth to obtain a mate.
The artist remarked on this carving:
We are no different than our brother creatures. We respond in much the same manner. We establish protocols to build those values necessary to carry on life’s processes. There are significant events in one’s life and their importance is ceremonialized to maintain these values.
Preparing for the Hunt: White Tailed Deer
The Menominee did not cleave themselves from the natural world and stand as a people apart who could only relate to nature by imposing their will upon it. Instead they knew they were of the same life that pulsed through all living forms. They had discovered also that they stood in organic relationship with other forms of living matter. They saw this in the observed world. The ruffed grouse ate the buds of the popular, hawks preyed on the grouse. When hawks died their bodies decomposed and fed the poplar. An infinitely complicated web of life existed.
With absolute certainty the Menominee knew they were but a part of the life system where one component depended upon the other and ultimately the whole depended upon them all. When a natural disaster swept their world, whether a forest fire or drought or the failure of the migratory pattern of a key species to return them to a particular area, life became distorted and often harsh. If foxes throve one season, rabbits and prairie chickens perished by the multitude and hawks as well as Menominee went hungry. Balance, they observed, is the prerequisite for a healthy order of life—not just their life, but the whole of which they were a portion.
Menominee culture went to great length to ensure that this distinctive and vital aspect of life would be recognized and that future generations would sustain the principle. They developed codes or conduct and ceremonials to keep the concept meaningful for them.
To provide meat for self and family one must kill game. The raccoon, the wolf, the raven, and the otter do the same thing; the coot, the loon, and the crane fish. To the Menominee, the game animals were brothers, fellow creatures in the common natural world whose importance they fully realized. Thus he would take only sufficient meat to fill his needs. In return, when his time to die came, his body would return to the earth and provide grass so that the deer’s children could eat. Through ceremony the Menominee affirmed the great harmony of the forces. Menominee did not live off the land like a parasite but as its brother.
Jim Frechette reflected upon Preparing for the Hunt:
In the process of arriving at a concept for this carving, much thought went into the hunt, indeed the whole idea of harvesting, whether it is animal or plant foods. The relationship between the Menominee and their environment seemed to dominate the final work. The stories and teachings concerning respect for our brother creatures, the consequences of wasting the resources, and our obligations toward all things that made life possible. Just imagine a concept of conservation and preservation ceremonialized long before the arrival of the Europeans.
The Successful Hunter: Wolf
The proper conduct of life was a major concern for the traditional Menominee. To this end they gave much thought, developed stories, history, cultural forms, and other structures to regulate relations. Regulation of conduct, however, was not restricted to human interaction, but included as an integral facet the relationships with the natural world, an organic part of the Menominee reality. Under these codes of conduct they defined the right way to treat people, an aunt, a sister, or a nephew. These firm, clear, and compelling rules for action were simply the way it was done. A stranger must be housed, fed, and protected; a son must be taught to speak gently and harbor no deep grievances if he were to become a man of the Menominee.
These codes came out of their life experiences. Biologically, humans are just the same as the rest of the creatures of the natural world.
The living force inside plants does not differ one whit from that through the human body. When one observes the fox with her kits she instructs them on how to hunt, where to hide, and where to rest in the evening. A bear sow does so with her cub, the doe with her fawn. The moose feed and move in accordance with principles of conduct. In fact, within the natural world all creatures seem to follow standards of conduct and to have defined the way they relate one to another.
To pursue hunting in a proper way was part of the Menominee concern for right relationships. For was not the bear, goose, brant, deer, fish, and rabbit brother to the Menominee? Around the hunting process the tribe wove many cultural features and ceremonials to keep the conduct alive and vital to them. In the act of proper taking of game the celebration gave this fundamental relationship new meaning and defined the hunter’s right role in the universe to provide sustenance so that life's children could be sustained.
Jim Frechette said of this carving:
Hunting was more than an activity to stock the larder. This aspect of the culture was a true relationship. The game filled was our brother creatures. As a consequence this process had to have dignity, respect and ceremony. We live in this world with our brothers. They do not live in our world.