The Meskwaki Annual Powwow originated from traditional religious and social beliefs of the Meskwaki Tribe. The modern day Meskwaki Powwow is derived from the Green Corn Dance and other social events of the tribe in its early years. The “Green Corn Dance“ was an annual event that took place during the harvesting of crops, generally in August or occasionally in September if the corn crop matured late.
Gathering together, the tribe’s event was held during harvest where some of the crop would be cooked for the feasting that took place and the rest would be boiled and dried. The dried corn would then be place in sacks and buried in deep pits located in the summer homes of the tribe.
The dancing and feasting that accompanied the harvest normally lasted two to three weeks. At times, it would be interspersed with horse racing, gambling and ball playing (games like Lacrosse, etc.) as well. After all the festivities were done, the families would scatter and go their separate ways, returning to their winter hunting grounds.
Each spring, the tribe would return to the village to repair their summer homes, (known as wickiups) and plant new crops. The tribe, living in one village during summer months, would plant and harvest from one large field with each family planting and harvesting from their own portion of the field. When August came, the harvest and Green Corn Dance would take place. This was the seasonal way of life for the Meskwaki.
Then in the winter of 1901-1902, a smallpox epidemic broke out through the village and took the lives of about 45 people. That spring, the federal government stepped in and burned the Meskwaki village to the ground; building more permanent structures in their place. Because the government built the houses scattered throughout the Settlement and not confined to a single area, each family began planting and harvesting near their homes and in their own time frames instead of in one common area.
This new living situation eliminated the need for a common harvest, but the tribe still craved times for social gatherings. From 1902-1912, an event that came to be known as “Field Days” began taking the place of the “Green Corn Dance” and was established at the location near the old village site. “Field Days” lasted about a week with dancing, games and horse racing. It was a social gathering without the harvest.
Because of the festive atmosphere and the Meskwaki friendships occurring with the outside world, more and more white visitors began attending “Field Days”. The Meskwaki’s realized the event had the possibility of becoming a major commercial enterprise, so the Chief appointed 15 men who planned the 1913 celebration. These men changed the name of the event to “Powwow” and it has been held in its current location ever since.
Today, the Meskwaki Annual Powwow is the only one of its kind in Iowa. It is a four day event used to celebrate the end of summer. As the color and intrigue of it all has drawn the most attention from the outside world, the Meskwaki Annual Powwow features dancing, singing, handcrafts, food, games and fun. Although dance styles and content have evolved over the years, the Meskwaki still consider the event a time of reaffirmation and hope, of kinship and friendship, and of celebration. They are thankful for the opportunity to share a part of who they are as Meskwaki with you. Most importantly, they hope you walk away with open minds and open hearts to be able to respect and learn from different cultures such as theirs.