MNR’s Special Projects Branch

The Special Project Branch works with the tribe’s natural resources, like cattails and bulrushes, to keep Meskwaki culture alive and well while teaching future generations how to best utilize and protect the precious ecosystem given by the Creator.

Special Natural Resource Projects & Programs

Traditional Mat Weaving

Meskwaki weaving of cattail mats for winter homes and bulrush weaving has been dormant for decades. However, within the past 10 years, there has been an effort to revitalize these art forms. With the help of our Kickapoo and Odawa relatives, a small group of women are working to bring these traditional arts home.

MNR has an agreement with the Iowa DNR in Tama County (Cattail Creek Refuge) where Tribal members can go out there during harvest time (August – October) and get the cattails and bulrush that we need.  If anyone has any questions on this process, please feel free to contact our office.


With this project, we are in charge of cleaning the cattails and getting them ready to start a mat. Once they’re cleaned, these are dried and cleaned up. Cattail mats can be used in a variety of ways, including being used to cover a home for the winter months . These mats are usually good for about two to three years.  


The Forestry Program includes inventory, planning, development/restoration, and protection of the Meskwaki Forests. 

The Meskwaki Settlement is composed of approximately 3,345 acres of forested land. From 2017 to 2020, 1,537 acres were inventoried by MNR staff to collect data on mature trees and regenerative trees that are growing in the understory. Forestry is the most in-depth program in the Land and Wildlife Branch as it is heavily connected to the Tribe’s culture. MNR partners with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide support and programs for developing, restoring, and maintaining the current data information on the settlement’s forests. 


Today, MNR collaborates with the Food Sovereignty Initiative, Red Earth Gardens, and Historic Preservation to teach traditional harvesting techniques of the indigenous plant life located near/on the Settlement.

Lotus (Water Potato) Harvest

The roots of the lotus plant (a cousin to the water lily) grow in the soil on local river bottoms.  The plant’s flowers are usually found on thick stems rising several centimeters above the leaves.  Traditional harvest involves pulling and shaking the leaves in shallow water and then pulling the roots out of the water.

Historically, this plant was an essential staple in the diets of many people because much of the plant is edible, from the young leaves and shoots, to the acorn-like seeds produced in the center of the flower.  However, it is the large fleshy root of the plant (also known as a “water potato”) that was used the most frequently.  Cooked just like a potato for soups and stews, the tuber provided much needed starchy fuels for our ancestor’s diets.  

Milkweed, Mulberries, Maple Syrup and More

There are many species of plants traditionally harvested by the Meskwaki.  MNR, working in conjunction with other tribal departments, holds various classes throughout the year to ensure these Meskwaki cultural traditions are passed onto the next generation.  Among others, milkweed is still utilized today for soup and stews, berries are found wild around the Settlement, honey is harvested from the tribe’s bee hives, and maple syrup is harvested annually as a special project in conjunction with the Meskwaki Settlement School and Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative.

Traditional Buffalo Harvesting Class

MNR hosts a traditional buffalo harvesting class open to all women in the community annually.  Participants of the event learn how to cut and dry the meat, make sausage, thoroughly clean the stomach, boil the hooves, and crack the bones to boil and extract the bone marrow.  At the end of the class, participants receive 10 lbs. of meat.  Learn more about the MNR’s buffalo management

Earth Day

Earth Day Open House 

Once a year, MNR hosts an Earth Day Celebration and Open House handing out free tree saplings, provides learning opportunities about Earth Day initiatives, and helps organize an on Settlement clean-up project.

Learn More About the MNR Department

Visit our department page to learn more about our different branches and check out our recent projects.