Meskwaki Tribe: Culture and Traditions

Culture | FIND Iowa
Jul 22, 2024 | 00:05:53

What are some ways that the Meskwaki Tribe is unique from and similar to all other Iowans? 

The Meskwaki people who live in Iowa have ancestors who were some of the first people to have lived in this area before it became known as Iowa! Learn about the ways that the Meskwaki Tribe is unique and similar to other Iowans.


[Abby Brown] My friend Halle and I are at Otter Creek Park near the Meskwaki Settlement, right in the middle of Iowa. We're gonna meet some new friends from the settlement…

[Halle] And hear some fantastic music!

(traditional Meskwaki tribal music and singing.)

[Abby] Yes!

[Storm Seymour] I am Storm Seymour. My Meskwaki name is ----, which means "one who stays in white water."

[Storm] This is my niece, Stephanie.

[Stephanie Snow] Hi. I'm Stephanie Bad Soldier Snow and my Meskwaki name is ----. My name means a swan, it's a little story, it's a swan that is flying and looks down and chooses a place that it wants to land and instead of landing on that spot it goes beyond and lands. So my name means "goes beyond."

[Abby] Goes beyond and the swan is relevant in your daughter's name right? What's your name?

[Sophie Snow] My name is Sophie Snow and my Meskwaki name is ---- and that means white swan, so I got both of my names from my great, great grandmother, yeah.

[Abby] Okay. And how old are you?

[Sophie] 16.

[Abby] How do we identify you? What should we call you if we want to have a conversation with you or ask a question? There's lots of words out there tell me what's okay and what's not okay.

[Stephanie] First of all my very first identity is Meskwaki. You can always refer to us by our tribal names, by our tribal affiliation.

(Members of the Meskwaki Nation dancing in a large circle with musicians in the center.)

[Storm] The latest term that most native people use is indigenous.

[Abby] Okay.

[Storm] But we also go by Native Americans or by their tribal affiliation.

[Abby] So as a culture, you could be identified as indigenous, you might be identified as Native American, but there's one word definitely not to call you right? And what is it?

[Stephanie] Indian.

[Abby] And why is that?

[Stephanie] Because we aren't from India.

[Abby] You're not from India! So Columbus came over on his ship and he found land and he thought he was where?

[Sophie] In India.

[Abby] And that's where the term came from. So they're not from India, they're from here this is their home.

[Abby] How did you end up in Iowa?

[Storm] We are an Eastern Woodland tribe, we started out on the east coast, we were up in Canada for a period of time, and then we slowly migrated to the Great Lakes region. And from there we made our way to Iowa, which where we call home today.

[Abby] And why did you not stay in Iowa forever at that point?

[Storm] Well the government relocated our tribe to Upper Kansas to some land that was not very, you know, very good to raise crops on.

[Abby] And you wanted to come back!

[Storm] And the people were homesick and so we came back and purchased the original 80 acres in 1857

(Members of the Meskwaki nation playing music and dancing. Many of them are in traditional clothing.)

[Abby] Okay. And so the fact that you purchased your land back from the government makes where you live a settlement, right? And how is that different from a reservation?

[Stephanie] Well a reservation is set aside by the government, and we're the only tribe that does not have a reservation, we're a settlement.

[Abby] Because you paid for it! So what does it mean to be part of a settlement? You're an enrolled member of the Meskwaki Nation, correct? So what does that mean for you guys?

(Members of the Meskwaki nation playing music and dancing. Many of them are in traditional clothing.)

[Storm] Well it means that we can receive benefits that the tribe does receive.

[Abby] Okay.

[Storm] We own the land so wherever our homes are we, we take care of that portion of the land.

[Abby] So you really operate as a community together. You have your own school.

(Children running to a school bus.)

(Students sitting on bleachers in a school gymnasium.)

[Halle] What was it like going to school on the settlement?

[Sophie] So going to the school on the settlement it's like just Meskwaki kids.So it's kind of like almost everybody's related to everybody, so it's basically like going to school with your family all the time.

[Abby] That's cool right?

[Sophie] Yeah. So there's a lot of... We have our language class, we have our cultural class, and stuff like that so we're able to practice our actual beliefs and our cultures and our customs there.

[Abby] Oh that's fantastic!

[Sophie] Yeah.

[Storm] This is another of what we call a "49" or a round dance song. And it speaks of heartbreak and love and it's called "Wait for Me."

(traditional Meskwaki tribal music and singing.)

[Abby] All of you have been learning this music your whole lives, correct?

[Storm] Since we were small.

[Abby] Who taught you?

[Storm] We learn from the elders.

[Abby] You learn from the elders, okay. Is your music written down anywhere?

[Storm] None that I know of.

[Halle] What do you want kids to know about being Meskwaki?

[Sophie] Oh, okay. So that a lot of the things that kids around like here or anywhere really, that the textbooks that they're learning from, they're really not accurate.

[Abby] Really?

[Sophie] And they never tell the full story, they never go into what actually happened. And so there's a lot of like different assumptions about us and about where we are and even if we're still alive. I know there's a lot of people around here that don't even know we exist.

[Abby] Wow. How does that make you feel?

[Sophie] They think we're extinct and it's just like how are we that invisible to you, really?

[Abby] That must be hurtful.

[Sophie] Yeah, it is.

[Abby] So you want people to know that you're here!

[Sophie] Yeah, basically.

[Abby] And that you're thriving, and happy, and awesome, and you're an Iowan too!

(traditional Meskwaki tribal music and singing.)

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