The Meskwaki Nation is Iowa’s only officially recognized Native American tribe. They live on more than 8,600 acres of homeland in Tama County.
In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day on October 11th, we have compiled this list of essential things you should know about the Meskwaki nation. Indigenous Peoples Day – first officially recognized by US President Joe Biden last year – offers us an opportunity to honor the past, present and future of Native Americans. Not only do we recognize how colonialism impacted Native Americans, we also celebrate their culture and contribution.
Meskwaki means “People of the Red Earth”.
The genesis of the name Meskwaki, dates from meškwahki·hakioriginally transliterated into English as mesquacia. The term Meskwaki means “people of the red earth”. Early members adapted this name from the reddish earth they inhabited, mostly in Ontario, Canada’s St. Lawrence River Valley. Throughout history, the Meskwaki have spread across Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.
The Meskwaki Nation consists of two tribes.
The Meskwaki, like other native tribes, faced conflicts with white settlers. The French called the Meskwaki renard, the French word for foxes. The Meskwaki fought French settlers in the Fox Wars (1701-1742). The Meskwaki allied themselves with the Sauk or Sac, whose name derives from the native word Asakiwaki, meaning ‘people of the yellow earth’. They allied in 1735 to fight against European settlers and other Native American tribes.
The Meskwaki and Sauk are both of Algonquian origin and speak the same language, so the US government formally combined the two tribes into the Sac and Fox Confederacy after the Blackhawk War of 1832. Today, the Meskwaki nation is officially referred to as the Sac and Fox tribe of the Mississippi.
The US government has expelled the Meskwaki nation from their homeland.
After President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the US government used treaties to seize and forcibly remove land from Native peoples, including the Meskwaki. In the 1842 treaty, the federal government and Iowa received all land claims from Sac and Fox. The terms of the treaty allowed the Meskwaki to move gradually as they moved west of the Red Rock Line by 1843 and reached a reservation in Kansas by 1845.
The Meskwaki chief reluctantly agreed to the treaty that opened Iowa to settlement that eventually led to statehood. The Meskwaki left their native Iowa in small groups, traveling in different directions. Some stayed in Iowa and others, longing for their homeland, returned a few years later. Their continued presence in Iowa served as a reason for the state of Iowa to enact legislation allowing the tribe to retain residency in the state.
Today’s Meskwaki Nation does not live on an Indian reservation.
Most people think of Native American reservations when they think of Native Americans in the United States. It is true that most tribes live on protected reservations; However, the Meskwaki nation has private land that has not been granted by the US government. After many Meskwaki returned to Iowa, they purchased 80 acres of land in Tama County in 1857, leading to their formal recognition as the “Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa.”
Their unique situation allowed them to receive payments from the federal government, but the US and state governments basically ignored them because they owned private land. The tribe made money from trapping and saved annuity payments to buy more acreage between 1867 and 1901 until they had nearly 3,000 acres. In 1987 the Meskwaki acquired more land and increased their holdings to more than 7,000 acres.
The fact that the Meskwaki bought private land created some confusion as to who had jurisdiction and allowed them to live fairly independently compared to other tribes, which were heavily scrutinized by the federal government. Eventually, Iowa gave up jurisdiction to simplify things. Today, the sovereign Meskwaki nation encompasses more than 8,100 acres in Tama, Marshall, and Palo Alto counties.
The Meskwaki Nation continues to grow and change to care for its people.
The Meskwaki Nation is the largest employer in Tama County; They continue to improve housing and infrastructure, and provide amenities and jobs for settlement residents. In addition to the Meskwaki Bingo, Casino & Hotel, the tribe has a school, health clinic and business center.
Since the turn of the century, the Meskwaki Nation bought a bank, built an itinerary, and established the Natural Resources and Buffalo Wildlife Project. They formed Meskwaki Inc. and other subsidiaries to create sustainable business opportunities for tribe members. For example, they built a 40-acre self-sustaining farm and began growing industrial hemp in 2022. In addition, they are currently building a 76,000-square-foot recreation facility that will include community and youth hangouts, classrooms, a daycare, gym, running track, weight room, an outdoor splash park and more.
You can learn more about the Meskwaki Nation and keep up to date with what’s new and exciting by visiting their website at www.meskwaki.org.
by Jessica Lee
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