The Meskwaki people are of Algonquian origin from the Eastern Woodland Culture areas. The Meskwaki spoken language is of similar dialect to the Sauk and Kickapoo and they are working hard to maintain it. Recently, their Meskwaki Settlement School has begun its own Language Preservation Initiative. Part of each elementary student’s day is spent speaking and learning the Meskwaki language.
The tribe has been historically located in the St. Lawrence River Valley, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Meskwaki were called “Renards” (the Fox) by the French, but have always identified themselves as “Meskwaki”.
The Meskwaki fought against the French in what are now called the Fox Wars (1701-1742) and in 1735, the Sauk and Meskwaki allied together to fend off Europeans and other Indian Tribes. Both tribes moved southward from Wisconsin into Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Even though the Meskwaki and Sauk are two distinct tribal groups, with linguistic and cultural similarities, the two tribes have often been associated throughout history.
After the Black Hawk War of 1832, the United States officially combined the two tribes into a single group known as the Sac & Fox Confederacy for treaty-making purposes. Through a series of land concessions in 1845 under the name of “Sac & Fox”, the Sauk and Meskwaki formally lost all lands and were removed to a reservation in east central Kansas (although some persevered and chose to stay).
After their banishment to Kansas, Meskwaki ancestors longed to reclaim their Iowa woodland homeland. Choosing to remain, some stayed hidden in Iowa, while others left for the Kansas reservation only to journey back to Iowa over the next few years. Throughout, there was an unbroken presence in Iowa and by 1856, the State of Iowa enacted a law allowing the continued residence of the tribe.
On July 13, 1857, the Meskwaki formally purchased their first 80 acres in Tama County, which gave formal federal identity to the Meskwaki people as the “Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi In Iowa”. Then 10 years later, in 1867, the United States government allowed the Meskwaki living in Iowa to receive federal annuity payments for the first time. This unique identity (that of unclear jurisdictional status since the tribe had formal federal recognition but also continuing relations with the State of Iowa due to the tribe’s private ownership of land) allowed the Meskwaki people to be virtually ignored by federal as well as state policies. Always persevering, this gave them time to return, thrive and grow.
By generating income through trapping and by accumulating annuity payments, the tribe was able to purchase additional land between 1867 and 1901.
Every year between 1857 and 1866, different groups of Meskwaki returned to the Settlement, with the majority coming to the area after 1862. The tribe traded 130 trees to obtain funds to purchase another parcel of 40 acres in January 1867. This expanded the Meskwaki Settlement to almost 3,000 acres.
During this 30 year time period, the Meskwaki people were able to live a more independent lifestyle than other tribes confined to regular reservations strictly regimented by federal authority. Seeking to resolve this ambiguity, in 1896 the State of Iowa ceded to the Federal Government all jurisdiction over the Meskwaki.
Because their ancestors had the tenacity and foresight to purchase their land, the Meskwaki Settlement is not an Indian Reservation. It was not set apart from the public domain and reserved for Indians. It is private property, a sovereign nation. Owing to the noble sacrifices and vision of their ancestors, the Meskwaki continued to thrive and grow and In 1987, the Meskwaki purchased more land, expanding their holdings to 7,054 acres, acquiring land towards the north. Powwow celebrations continue to be held on traditional grounds to the south.
Today, the Meskwaki continue to purchase land as opportunities for economic diversification arise. They currently own more than 8,100 acres in Tama, Marshall and Palo Alto County.
The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa is the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Iowa. They have their own constitution, codified laws, 13 full-time police officers and a fully functioning court system. They have nearly 1400 enrolled tribal members and are the largest employer in Tama County, employing more than 1200 people. The Meskwaki Nation has been working to improve housing, infrastructure and improve modern amenities over the years including beginning their own fiber optic network. Tribal activities at the Settlement shifted to the north after the relocation of Highway 30, where the Meskwaki Bingo, Casino & Hotel, Meskwaki Settlement School, Meskwaki Health Clinic, Meskwaki Business Center and newer housing additions are situated.
Over the last 10 years, the tribe has purchased Pinnacle Bank, built a new Meskwaki Travel Plaza and created the Natural Resources and Buffalo Wildlife Project. They opened Meskwaki, Inc. and their subsidiaries, an economic diversification project working to create sustainable business opportunities for the tribe. In 2013, as part of the Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative, they launched Red Earth Gardens, a 40-acre self-sustaining farm. The Meskwaki Nation is working to build a better life for their community members through family service programs and support like MADAC, Historic Preservation and Higher Education.
By adapting, surviving and thriving, The People Of The Red Earth are working hard to determine the needs within their community. They are committed to protecting their inherent sovereignty, preserving and promoting their culture, and improving the quality of life for future generations.
Their mission: “To rely on the knowledge and experiences of the past, along with the will to survive to advance the people, culture and well-being of the Meskwaki Nation.”
To find out more about the Meskwaki people, visit their website!