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Native Peoples

Human activity in Iowa began with Native American tribes that roamed the Great Plains as hunting grounds. These tribes settled and developed societies here, and were later forcibly removed from the area. The name “Iowa” comes from the Siouan language family. It is the name of the Ioway tribe, meaning “sleeping ones.”

The land on which Muscatine was founded is the homeland of the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Sauk and Meskwaki, and the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Dakota/Lakota/Nakoda (Sioux)) Nations, among others. These nations were the first custodians of this land.


These nations were initially disrupted in the 17th century, when European and American settlers began entering and interfering with the land. Tribes were forced to resettle and leave the land they knew in Iowa. The Meskwaki (called the Fox by settlers) and Sauk peoples moved to southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.


The Meskwaki fought against the French in the Fox Wars (1701-1742) in Northern and Eastern Illinois. In 1735, the Sauk and Meskwaki came together again to resist the Europeans and other Indian tribes. They moved together from Wisconsin to Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. While the Meskwaki and Sauk tribes are two distinct groups, with unique cultures and languages, they have often been associated with one another throughout history.


The Black Hawk War was fought in 1832 between the U.S. Army and followers of Sauk Chief Black Hawk. The war was fought in Illinois and Wisconsin as a conflict over western land. When the war was over, the United States officially combined the two tribes into one group called the Sac & Fox Confederacy. In 1845, the Sauk and Meskwaki formally lost all lands they resided on and were relocated to a reservation in Kansas, from which they were later banished. Meskwaki people longed to return to their homeland in Iowa.


On July 13, 1857, the Meskwaki purchased 80 acres of land in Tama County. Sympathizing white settlers worked to convince the Iowa legislature that the tribe should be able to legally and peacefully reside in Iowa. When the Iowa Assembly passed the act that affirmed the legality of the Meskwaki’s residence in Iowa, the tribe in Kansas was informed that they could join the tribe in Iowa. Other Meskwaki villages in Iowa were invited as well.


There are four tribes that live and thrive in the state of Iowa today. These are the Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa), Póⁿka (Ponca Tribe of Nebraska), Meskwaki (Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa), and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska).


As a collective community, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the independence and traditional territories of these nations that existed peacefully before wars and treaties forcefully removed them. In keeping with the commitment of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, we seek to understand the untold histories and current experiences of Native peoples. We invite any Native person with a story or current experience they would like to share to contribute to this effort by contacting us here.


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