• Dan Robinson

A Conversation with Anahkwet, Exec. Director of the Menominee Community Organization Menikanaehkem

Updated: Sep 8

The Menominee Nation Reservation is located on the tribes's ancestral lands west of the Bay of Green Bay within the Lake Michigan watershed. One of the few indigenous nations within the boundaries of the U.S. to remain on its own land, the Nation's culture and traditions have sustained the Menominee people for millenia.

I had the honor, recently, of talking with Anahkwet, Executive Director of the Menominee non-profit organization Menikanaehkem, and I asked him about the group's name. “At first, we were calling ourselves community builders, and that’s kind of the approach we took,” he said. “But one of our elders, after hearing our name, said ‘you shouldn’t be calling yourselves community builders, because we already have a community.’ And it made a lot of sense to us, so, we started to call ourselves ‘community rebuilders,’” or Menikanaehkem.

A late winter day on the Menominee Reservation at Keshena Falls and the Wolf River,

part of the Great Lakes Basin on the Menominee Nation Reservation

That English translation of the Menominee word, however, doesn’t communicate the full meaning of Menikanaehkem, according to Anahkwet, who said the name “roughly translates to ‘they are building something really healthy and strong, with well-being in mind.’ It’s a really complex word. There’s no real literal translation to it, but that’s basically what it means. We are actually doing it. We’re getting in there and doing something. And that name made a lot more sense to us. I guess the corrupt version is ‘Menominee Rebuilders’ but it’s got much more meaning in our language.”

Located on an 80-acre farm on the Menominee Indian Reservation, Menikanaehkem's work centers around five initiatives:

  • Food sovereignty

  • A youth organization

  • Culture and language

  • Energy sovereignty

  • Environmental justice

In addition to the work on the farm, the group’s food sovereignty initiative takes an approach that’s consistent with the land and tradition of the Menominee people. “One of the things that we recognized relatively early in our organizing was we wanted to eat healthier, natural food,” Anahkwet said.

“We recognize that in the western model, we’re in a food desert. The thing about us and where are is that we have 234,000 acres that are heavily forested,” he added. “There’s a lot of food that the forest already naturally grows.... You don’t have to prepare it or anything. It’s all done for you. You just go out and get it.”

Towards its efforts around energy sovereignty, Menikanaehkem recently installed 32 solar panels in a grid system. “Everything is running off those panels,” according to Anahkwet.

As with all the group’s work, Menikanaehkem’s efforts for environmental justice are centered around the Menominee Nation’s culture and tradition. They are fighting a mine being proposed by Aquila Energy that would be located close to the Menominee River, northeast of the Menominee Reservation. The river flows into the Bay of Green Bay and eventually Lake Michigan.

Called “The Back Forty Mine,” the proposed open pit metallic sulfide mine would, according to Anahkwet, threaten the health of the Menominee River and the integrity of the land where the Menominee origin story takes place. “The Menominee River is very important to us. As a people, it’s where our oral history states that we came from.”

Anahkwet said the people working in the group are “mostly tribal members. We’re just local people trying to figure out solutions to some of what you would call some of our social ills, some of our problems.”

This is the first of three posts based on the conversation with Anahkwet, executive director of Menikanaehkem. Next week’s installment will focus on the group’s efforts to stop not only the Back 40 mine but also to oppose a potential mine located near the Wolf River north of the Menominee Reservation. The river runs through the heart of the Reservation and is a part of the Lake Michigan watershed.

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