University of Wisconsin law professor Richard Monette carries the values instilled in him as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, saying his tribe of 30,000 members in North Dakota is what gives him strength.
Monette said he credits much of his success to his educational journey. His collegiate experience began at his tribe’s community college in North Dakota and then continued at Mayville College, also located in North Dakota. Monette earned his graduate degree from the University of North Dakota and his law degree at the University of Oregon.
“I studied in a Catholic school, designed to convert us all,” Monette said. “Then I studied under a school funded by the federal government, designed to civilize us all. And finally I studied under my own elders, designed to save us all.”
After law school, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hired Monette to serve as a staff attorney until he left to earn an advanced law degree at UW. Monette said he was invited to head the administration’s mission for Native American legislation when former President Bill Clinton was elected.
Monette then returned to UW to work as a professor, teaching tort, state and federal constitutional law. At one point, he said he took leave and went home to North Dakota to start an alternative school on the reservation.
“We had almost a 70 percent drop out rate in the high school on the reservation in North Dakota,” Monette said.
Monette’s past experiences have made him the voice to reference in terms of tribal law and relative issues. In addition to teaching, he works as a legal consultant for the Great Lakes Indian Law Center.
“I do whatever else I can do,” Monette said. “My unique ties to the Native American community means that Native American students come to my office all of the time, sometimes even undergrads.”
Recently, the state has proposed the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin reach a level where they can be deemed “entirely assimilated into society,” Monette said. This complete assimilation means the tribe would no longer receive the compensation formally provided by the government.
There is much discrepancy over the standards by which such decisions are made, Monette said.
“The only standard that seems to apply is if the state feels the tribe has enough money and resources to survive already,” Monette said.
Such “forced assimilation” is something that happens to a tribe every 40 years or so, Monette said. While no decision has been made regarding the Menominee tribe, it is certainly up for deliberation, he said.
Monette said a gradual implementation of laws pick tribes apart without much acknowledgement until it is impossible for tribes to sustain their languages and their cultures.
“A good deal of the relationships between the U.S. government and Indian tribes has been for the U.S. government to figure out how to separate the Indians tribes from their wealth,” he said.