NYM Minute of Support for Federal Recognition of the Brothertown Indian Nation of Wisconsin

Northern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) affirms its support for the Brothertown Indian Nation’s bid for federal recognition as a Tribe. We request that Congress work expeditiously to pass the Brothertown Indian Nation’s bill for restoration.

As a faith community we recognize the wrongs perpetrated on the First Nations who inhabited these lands before colonization. We recognize our historical complicity in some of these wrongs. We aspire to work toward a relationship with the Tribe grounded in faithfulness to our testimonies of integrity, equality, and peace. We embrace our responsibility today to restore the government-to-government relationship that existed, was wrongly taken, and has long been denied the Brothertown Tribe. 

Northern Yearly Meeting Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
November 4, 2023
Milwaukee WI

Shel Gross, Presiding Clerk, on behalf of Northern Yearly Meeting

Note: Northern Yearly Meeting includes about 30 worshiping congregations, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

Background and explanation

The Brothertown Tribe was formed in 1785 out of the remnants of seven northeast tribes decimated by the wars, disease and famines that accompanied colonization. Gathered into “praying towns”, these Christianized communities decide to unite for a shared future. They formed a settlement on Oneida lands in New York state where they thrived for a time, but eventually both the Oneida and the Brothertown were forced west to Wisconsin. The Brothertown arrived in 1832, eventually obtaining a reservation on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago. However, they were then ordered to leave yet again, this time to Kansas — their fifth forced move in 60 years.

Believing that obtaining individual land allotments and citizenship would prevent their having to move again, they petitioned Congress for both. In 1939 their petition was granted, making the Brothertown among the very first Native Americans to obtain citizenship. (Citizenship was not extended to Native Americans as a whole until 1924.) 

However, the Tribe paid a high and unexpected price for citizenship. First, they were terminated and lost their status as a federally recognized tribe — not something they had understood to be part of the agreement. Second, the U. S. Government only allotted part of the reservation to individual Brothertown members, selling off the rest to non-native settlers. Third, the imposition of poorly understood property taxes on their individual land allotments meant that in subsequent decades Tribal members lost most of their remaining land to tax liens and foreclosures. 

We believe their federal recognition was wrongly terminated, implying the Brothertown could not be both members of their Tribe and American citizens. 

Since the 1970s the Tribe has been working toward restoration of federal recognition. The Brothertown Nation has provided extensive historical documentation of their ongoing existence, identity, and activities as a tribe over nearly 240 years. However, in 2012 the Department of the Interior determined that since the 1839 Act of Congress had terminated federal recognition of the Tribe, only an act of Congress could restore it. 

Senator Tammy Baldwin is sponsoring legislation to restore federal recognition to the Brothertown. Northern Yearly Meeting supports this legislation and urges the congressional delegations in all the districts where it has members to co-sponsor this legislation and work for its passage. Many Friends eagerly signed the Brothertown petition for restoration at our 2023 Annual Session; no one who was invited to sign declined.

Federal restoration will have a number of benefits for the Tribe: 

  • protection of tribally owned land 
  • exercise of tribal sovereignty and self-determination
  • the opportunity to develop tribal infrastructure and services for education, health care, etc.
  • some additional federal protections for land, water, cultural resources and people 
  • access to some federal programs and benefits
  • government-to-government relations with the federal government and the ability to contract for services with the federal government 
  • the same legal ability to protect their cultural heritage, traditions, history, and burial sites as all other federally recognized Indian Tribes have.