1. Historical Information about the Culture
The Meskwaki tribe of Iowa initially called themselves the meškwahki·haki, which was initially transliterated as Mesquakie. The term Meskwaki carries the meaning “red earth people,” and this name was adapted from the reddish color of the soil found in their region. Originally, the Meskwaki predominantly lived in the Saint Lawrence River Valley in Ontario, Canada. Over their history in North America, they have dispersed throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. The Meskwaki people have traditionally used a form of the Algonquian language, which defines many of the tribes in the Northeastern area of the US. Many of these tribes typically relied on the game and natural crops of the area for their livelihood. Popular foods included corn, squash, beans, nuts, berries, and other fruits, along with the meat of hunted deer and buffalo.
While living in the region, the Meskwaki people lived and breathed a typical Northern US climate.: Warm to hot and muggy summers, paralleled by bitterly cold and long winters. This climate necessitated that the tribes have different living establishments for summer and winter. In the summers, the Meskwaki people mainly lived in permanent villages, which were often in close proximity to a lake or river. In the winter, the Meskwaki people would move to a more isolated winter camp, usually deeper in the surrounding forests, where they would be more sheltered from predators and the harsh winter weather.
The forests were also a main source of materials for the Meskwaki people. Tree bark was a very popular material for many tribes in this region, and could be utilized in many ways. Whether it was carved into weapons, homes, tools, or containers, the tribes in this region came up with a solution to many of their problems by using the many elements of the woodlands flourishing in this area. Bark was an essential element to many of the structures that the people built, ranging from large bark-covered longhouses, smaller dome-shaped wigwams, and bark-covered teepees. Tribes often lived close to a central area with a larger general population, but it was not uncommon for a tribe member or family to live more isolated from the rest of the tribe.
The Meskwaki people have a flag that signifies many aspects of their culture and beliefs. The flag is green and red, with the green on top “expressing the hope that spring will arrive, peace will prevail, and life will endure.” The red is joined to it because “the reality is that fall always follows, war always threatens, and death always comes.” The tribe practiced polygamy, in most cases being a sororal form of polygamy where a man has married several sisters from the same family.
One of the well-known rituals of the Meskwaki tribe included the ingestion and smoking of a flower of the herb Tiodanis perfoliata. Although this herb has no psychoactive effects, it was predominantly used by the tribe as an emetic (substance that induces vomiting) when ingested. Another well-known custom among the male’s in the tribe was the scalp lock style of hair. This lock of hair was often kept throughout a man’s life.
2. Colonial Experience of the Culture
Along with many other North American Indian tribes, the Meskwaki faced conflict with white settlers when the French first came in contact with the tribe in 1666. The Meskwaki, referred to as the “Fox” by the French that first encountered them, were involved in a lengthy period of conflict with the French called the Fox Wars between 1701 and 1742 because these white settlers wanted to occupy their lands. The Meskwaki were so strong and effective in their resistance that the French King signed a decree commanding entire extermination of the Meskwaki, which is the only command in history of a full army targeting a single American Indian tribe.
The Meskwaki were forced to leave their lands after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the removal of eastern American Indians to the lands west of the Mississippi river. Although the Sauk, sometimes referred to as Sac, and the Meskwaki are two distinct tribes, they have similar languages and cultures and the United States government officially combined the tribes into a single group for a series of land cessions under the name of “Sac & Fox” after the Blackhawk War of 1832.
The Treaty of 1842 sold all Sauk and Meskwaki/Fox claims in Iowa to the Federal government. The treaty terms allowed the Meskwaki to relocate in a gradual process, forcing them to move west of a certain point named the “red rock line” by 1843 and then to a reservation in east central Kansas by 1845. The Meskwaki chief reluctantly signed this treaty, which ultimately opened up Iowa for settlement and it became a state shorty after. However, the Meskwaki tribe did not leave in an organized fashion; they left in small groups headed in different directions. Some Meskwaki remained hidden in Iowa, with others returning within a few years.
The state of Iowa enacted a law in 1856 allowing the Meskwaki to stay. However, the United States government tried to force the tribe to the Kansas reservation by withholding some of the Meskwaki’s treaty-right annuities. In 1857, the Meskwaki purchased the first 80 acres in Tama County, Iowa; and it was ten years after then that the federal government finally began paying annuities to the Meskwaki in Iowa, an act that gave them a formal identity as the Sac & Fox of Iowa and allowed them to build their reservation.
For the next 30 years after this, the Meskwaki were practically ignored by federal and state polices. Consequently, they lived a rather independent lifestyle compared to other tribes who were confined to regular reservations strictly regimented by federal authority. Eventually, to resolve the jurisdictional ambiguity, the State of Iowa ceded to the federal government all jurisdictions over the Meskwaki in 1896.
The Meskwaki Settlement, often called “the Sett” by residents, is an unincorporated community west of Tama, Iowa, which is now home about 800 of the tribe's 1,300 members. The settlement includes over 8,000 acres and is located in parts of Indian Village Township, Toledo Township, Tama Township, and Columbia Township.
http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Meskwaki http://www.poweshiekskipper.org/history/poweshiek3.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meskwaki
3. Contemporary Developments or Issues
The Meskwaki are one of three federally recognized bands of the Sac and Fox Nation, officially known as the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa. According to the 2010 census there are roughly 1000 Meskwaki residing on the Central Iowan settlement.
They are governed by a seven-member Tribal Council of elected officials, six of whom are described as liaison to Health & Homes, Membership/Taxation, Employment, Education, Agriculture, and "Local, State & Federal."
Meskwaki Inc. is a company which aims to use reservation resources and funding to support Tribally-owned businesses and provide employment for Tribal members. The Frequently Asked Questions section of the company website cites the Harvard Project on Nation Building in explaining the need for a professionally directed entity separate from the politics of the Council, but still owned and managed by the Tribe.
The language of the Meskwaki is a dialect of Meskwaki-Sauk and comes from the Algonquian language group. Outside of Sauk - the language of the Asakiwaki - the closest related language is that of the Kickapoo tribe, but they are not mutually intelligible.
On the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) on Ethnologue, Meskwaki is classified as a level 7 (Shifting) language, which bears the following description: "The child-bearing generation can use the language among themselves, but it is not being transmitted to children." Despite some local use of the language, English is the language of scholastic instruction and more commonly household life.
There do exist a number of nonprofit organizations for the preservation of Native American languages. Native Languages of the Americas, under Director Laura Redish, seeks to collect and provide a repository of language resources on the web. The Endangered Language Fund provides grants for language education under its Native Voices Endowment, although only the Sac and Fox tribes of Oklahoma and Missouri are eligible.
Particularly for the Meskwaki-Sauk in Oklahoma, the Sauk Language Department (talksauk.com) provides resources for language study, including workbooks and dictionaries, and has a Facebook page and Youtube account.
The Sauk Language Department (talksauk.com)
US Census 2010 (census.gov)
The Endangered Language Fund (endangeredlanguagefund.com)
Native Languages of the Americas (native-languages.com)
The Meskwaki Nation (meskwaki.org)
Meskwaki Inc (meskwaki-inc.com)
The Asakiwaki Nation (sacandfoxnation-nsn.gov)