The Little Menominee
The Menominee Clans Story displays wood figures carved by the Menominee traditional artist, James F. Frechette, Jr. Known by the Menominee as The Little Menominee, the intricately carved and painted figures stand between twelve and twenty inches high. Through an indigenous art form of the tribe, Mr. Frechette faithfully captured the cultural dimensions of the ancient clan system depicting dress, symbols, tools, colors, traditions, and many details of the now fast fading way of life.
The term, "the Little Menominee", refers to diminutive spirit beings described in sacred Menominee legends and stories.
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 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, the culture, in turn, sustained the individual.
The 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, was the tribal historian in addition to being Younger Brother to the Bear.
Purposes of the Exhibit
Several purposes combined to impel the decision to acquire the figures. First, The Little Menominee belong to art as such. Secondly, Mr. Frechette's stature in the traditional Indian art world enhanced the worthiness of the art component. He has been recognized as a significant artist whose work has been purchased and commissioned by museums, collectors, and citizens. Equally as important, the Menominee Clans Exhibit and Web Site will preserve an important cultural aspect of the traditional Menominee world, now slowly disintegrating into the shadows of today's plastic and steel civilization. Mr. Frechette was one of the few Menominee who labored in the traditional forms and who also had knowledge of the ancient clan system. His participation guaranteed quality and continuity with authenticity.
The educational element is very strong. Not only does the clan system project serve the university community in a score of academic and general ways, it also presents for Menominee youth an opportunity to visit and study and enhance their knowledge of an illustrious past. To the general public, both Wisconsin citizens and tourists, the Menominee Clans Story offers a unique opportunity to view the heritage of an Indian nation and to learn the complex ways of an ancient system. At the same time, the Menominee Clans Story dovetails into the mission of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's mission to preserve and promote diversity.
The Little Menominee clan carvings symbolize individual aspects of all human life, showing that harmony can be achieved by seeing the complexity and significance of a system devised by the Menominee to help guide their lives.