Located on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, the St. Joseph of the Lake Church has played an important role in the continuation of Menominee traditions and was the community center for the South Branch Menominee. This area has been occupied intermittently by regional indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Oral histories indicate that Menominees occupied South Branch prior to the establishment of the reservation in 1852. Catholic missionaries established a presence in this area by the last quarter of the 19th century. By 1888, the mission served 80 Menominee families and 12 European-American families from nearby towns.
Construction on St. Joseph Church began in 1891, replacing an earlier building. The money and lumber to build the church was provided by the South Branch Menominee, as was much of the construction work, directed by Father Blase Krake and assisted by tradesmen. The church was dedicated on June 17, 1893, whereas the cemetery (for Catholics) and burial ground (for non-Catholics) were established earlier around 1876. Bi-monthly services were conducted for many years, and services are still held here regularly.
The church also became a place for the preservation and continuation of traditional Menominee life-ways. The traditional languages and ceremonies of many American Indian groups were lost as a result of their prohibition by governmental supervision on reservations. The Menominee language and ceremonies were prohibited by the Superintendent of the Menominee reservation, specifically in the community of Keshena, where he lived. As Keshena was 16 miles away from the South Branch community, this may have increased the number of traditional ceremonies held at St. Joseph of the Lake. The church became the location for the South Branch Menominees' pow-wows, dances to heal the sick and dying, wakes and funeral suppers, bean feasts and ghost suppers. Wake singers were noted for singing in the Menominee language. Bean feasts are a blend of Catholic and Menominee customs, held annually on Three Kings Day (January 6). Wild game is served at a large communal feast, and a cake is shared in which one bean is embedded; the person who receives the slice containing the bean supports the feast the following year. Ghost suppers were held the first year after a death, and were marked by a feast and prayers by the family to bring back the spirit of the deceased and so the food could be shared with the spirit. These traditional ceremonies, held in the church, or on the church grounds, reinforced Menominee traditions, and enabled them to be passed down to later generations.
Navajo Nation Council Chamber | Saint Joseph of the Lake Church and Cemetery