The Meskwaki Nation’s History
The Mission of the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa
It’s our 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.
A History of the Meskwaki People
The Meskwaki people (sometimes spelled “Mesquakie”) are of Algonquian origin from the Eastern Woodland Culture areas. The Meskwaki spoken language is of a similar dialect to the Sauk and Kickapoo, and our people are working hard to maintain it.
The tribe has been historically located in the St. Lawrence River Valley along the Canadian border, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. The Meskwaki were called “Renards” (the Fox) by the French but have always identified themselves as “Meskwaki.” The Meskwaki fought against the French in what is 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.
Uniting Two Tribes
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.
Reclaiming Our Iowa Homeland
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 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. Read more about our Tribal land reclamation in this article from the Washington Post.
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.
By generating income through trapping and by accumulating annuity payments, the tribe was able to purchase additional land between 1867 and 1901. 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, the State of Iowa ceded to the Federal Government all jurisdiction over the Meskwaki. The outdated federal law was later repealed by the Federal Government in 2019.
In 1987, the Meskwaki purchased additional ground, expanding their holdings to 7,054 acres, acquiring land towards the north. Powwow celebrations, however, continue to be held on traditional grounds to the south.
A Sovereign Nation
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 privately purchased property — a sovereign nation. Owing to the noble sacrifices and vision of their ancestors, the Meskwaki continued to thrive and grow over the years on their purchased land.
Today’s Success & Our Future
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 more than 1,450 enrolled tribal members and are the largest employer in Tama County, employing more than 1,200 people.
The Meskwaki Nation has been working to improve housing and infrastructure along with 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 15 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 which started 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 and in 2022 the tribe began growing and harvesting CBD grade hemp through its new production/manufacturing corporation. Scheduled for opening in 2023, the community is currently building a 75,959 sq.ft. recreation facility which will include a large gathering area for the community, youth classrooms, a daycare, a four-court gymnasium, running/walking track, weight room, outdoor splash park and more. Above all, the Meskwaki Nation is working to build a better life for their community members through family service programs like their Behavior Health Services, Historic Preservation and Language Preservation initiatives, Apprenticeship Program 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.
Meskwaki History Resources
- View the Meskwaki Heritage Video
- Visit the State of Iowa Historical Society’s Meskwaki History Site
- Read Meskwaki Nation’s Proclamation Day
- Read Meskwaki Chronology and Perspectives
- Read about Meskwaki Tribal land reclamation in this article from the Washington Post
- Watch video about Meskwaki removal from Iowa in this video from the Stanley Center
- Watch video about our annual powwow