Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs

A 2008 study  by the La Follette School of Public Affairs found that a proposed casino and entertainment center in Kenosha could help the social and economic woes of the poverty-stricken Menominee tribe.

The full report is available online: The Unmet Needs of the Menominee Nation: Challenges and Opportunities, 2007-2008
Professor Dennis Dresang talks about the Menominee tribe and the report in a video interview available on YouTube.

The Authors

Dennis Dresang is an emeritus professor of Public Affairs and Political Science and was director of the Center on State, Local and Tribal Governance. His research focused on state politics, public personnel management, and community issues. He has contributed to public service in a variety of ways: directing a research and public service seminar of La Follette School students examining community health issues and youth violence, chairing two major gubernatorial task forces, and serving on numerous tribal and local government commissions on human resource management issues.

Ryan Baumtrog a 2008 graduate of the La Follette School.

Steven Cook is an associate researcher with the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

"The Bureau of Indian Affairs has acknowledged that termination was a mistake that deeply hurt the Menominee people. Our analysis shows that nearly four decades after restoration, the tribe still suffers greatly from that mistake," says professor Dennis Dresang, director of the La Follette School's Center for Wisconsin, State, Local and Tribal Governance and one of the study's authors. "The federal government now has the opportunity to make up for that shattering decision by approving the Kenosha casino and helping the Menominee help itself overcome an utterly devastating period in its history."

To provide for significant health-care, educational, economic and other needs of its members, the Menominee tribe announced plans in January 2004 to build an $808 million entertainment center and casino at Kenosha's Dairyland Greyhound Park. The Bureau of Indian Affairs' Midwest regional office has recommended approval of the project, which still requires the consent of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Menominee tribe has entered into agreements with the City of Kenosha and Kenosha County, and Kenosha County voters have endorsed the project in two referendums. The Kenosha casino would create more than 3,000 jobs and pay state and local governments approximately $2 billion during its first 22 years of operation.

According to Dresang, the Menominee was one of the most self-sufficient tribes in the country when the federal government terminated its tribal status in 1954. Although federal recognition of the Menominee was restored in 1973, the La Follette School study finds that the tribe continues to struggle. The tribe's two businesses — its forestry operation and small, outdated reservation casino — do not generate the income the tribe needs to overcome the harm termination caused, Dresang says.

"Today, Menominee is the fourth poorest tribe in the country. Menominee County and the Menominee Reservation rank at the bottom of Wisconsin counties in employment, income, education, health outcomes, housing, property values and other areas," Dresang says. "Additionally, termination has caused the Menominee [reservation] to suffer abandonment by its own members in search of jobs and services." Termination led to the closing of a hospital and clinic, the sale of telephone and electric companies, a decrease in funds for colleges and boarding schools, an increase in drug and alcohol abuse, and the sale of land because members couldn't afford property taxes, Dresang notes.

He says the Kenosha development could help reverse the effects of termination. "Revenue from the Kenosha project would make a significant, measurable difference for the Menominee in their struggle to overcome the shattering economic and cultural after-effects of termination," Dresang says. "Without new revenue, the ability of the Menominee to care for nearly 8,500 tribal members is severely compromised."

The La Follette School conducted the analysis, The Unmet Needs of the Menominee Nation: Challenges and Opportunities, 2007-2008, at the request of the Menominee tribe, which paid for the study. The tribe has submitted the report to the Bureau of Indian Affairs with its application to build a casino and entertainment center at Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha.

"Those of us who have lived through termination and its aftermath know firsthand the dreadful toll it has taken on the Menominee tribe," says Menominee tribal chair Lisa Waukau. "The La Follette School confirms the devastation and the need for the federal government to address it. … We appreciate the time, close scrutiny and careful thought Professor Dresang and his team put into their research."

Dresang says the study shows the need for the Menominee to enhance education and job training and to build needed infrastructure, including a school, jail, dams and housing. Additionally, the tribal health clinic should be expanded and emergency medical services and wellness and prevention programs need improvement. Revenue from the Kenosha casino could help move all of these projects forward, he says.

Dresang says he and researchers from the La Follette School and the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Institute for Research on Poverty were concerned not only with the Menominee's unmet needs, but also with the tribe's heavy reliance on federal funding, which is continually vulnerable to severe cuts.

"In fiscal year 2006-07, federal funding was responsible for 56.6 percent of the tribe's budget and was the primary funding source for such important efforts as the tribal clinic; schools and Head Start; programs addressing alcohol and drug abuse, mental health and domestic violence; and more," Dresang says. "History has shown that federal funding can disappear very quickly. The Menominee tribe clearly needs to create a new source of income."

The La Follette School report emphasizes the synergy between developing an off-reservation business like the Kenosha entertainment center with the reservation's institutional strengths. In particular, an investment of casino revenue would enable the College of the Menominee Nation to offer a health-care curriculum to train employees for the expanded clinic. Additional classes could include forestry and tourism to train people for on-reservation ecotourism and to work in the Kenosha and reservation casinos.

A key goal of the tribe is to improve reservation life, especially by creating jobs, Dresang says. "We estimate that the use of casino revenues to improve reservation facilities would create 265 to 275 temporary jobs, plus another 210 to 300 permanent jobs in fields for programs that casino funds could expand," he says. "This will have the net effect of improving the quality of life on the reservation and making it a more attractive place for tribal members to live and work."

Kenosha development could ease tribe's social, economic woes, study finds, October 9, 2008, University of Wisconsin-Madison News