Meskwaki Anthology



From the desk of Johnathan L. Buffalo


(Note:  From an article that ran in the Sept. 20, 2002 issue of the Meskwaki Tribal Newsletter)


The Tribe’s South Farm Property


“South Farm” as it is called, consists of 520 acres, is south of the Pow Wow grounds and located just off 340th Street, and has been a part of the Meskwaki Indian Settlement for over 100 years.

From 1857 to 1976 the Tribe, as legal landowners, paid property taxes to the state of Iowa. The Settlement lands were/are communal lands owned by the tribe as a group. But during the first part of that time, Indians could not own land nor make legal transactions. Therefore the governor of the State of Iowa held the land “in trust” for the Tribe … similar to how a trust account or fund is held on behalf of a minor.

In 1867 after a lengthy legal struggle, the Tribe finally began receiving in Iowa the unpaid annuities from the federal government owed as part of the treaty terms. This act gave the Tribe the formal identity as the Sac & Fox of Iowa, and with this formality the Tribe became eligible for government services. However, the Tribe still had a continuing relationship with the state of Iowa, due to the private ownership of the land, which the Governor of Iowa was still the legal trustee.

This caused a jurisdictional ambiguity between the State of Iowa and the federal government. The federal government had long wanted to exercise complete control of the Tribe, but discovered it could not enforce federal policies such as the Allotment Act in the 1880’s. The Tribe capitalized on this unique complication and chose to ignore the Allotment Act, escaping the fate of all other Indian tribes, and instead continued to keep the land in a communal way.

Property taxes were hard for the Tribe to pay and the Tribe even lost part of their lands at one time. When annuities were paid, each family would pay their share of taxes. But it was always a struggle to pay the taxes. Sometimes timber was sold to make up the difference. Then around 1890, Pushetonequa was given an idea by a White friend: The idea was to buy land, rent it out, and use the rent money to pay the taxes. So on July 21, 1892 the Tribe purchased 520 acres in Columbia Township just south of the Settlement (but not physically connected to the main part of the Settlement) … thus the name “South Farm.” The rent received was then used to help pay the communal taxes.

In 1896 the State of Iowa and the federal government both enacted legislation to transfer trust status of Meskwaki land to the United States government. The transfer was completed in 1908 when all the deeds were transferred from the state to the U.S. But the act permitted limited taxation by Iowa, and although the land was all “trust” land it still had a different status from other tribes’ trust land holdings in relation to taxation so the Meskwaki continued to pay property taxes to the state.
In 1976 the federal government proclaimed the Settlement to have full Reservation status, whether the Tribe liked it or not, and it was at that time the Tribe stopped paying state property taxes

During the 1990’s, the Tribe began occupying the property by establishing the buildings in use today: The Meskwaki Youth Center/Family Services, and MADAC.