Published on September 1, 2014 by Amy
The Meskwaki Native Americans are a group of people associated with the Eastern woodland culture of the United States. They historically resided throughout the Midwestern section of the country, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Michigan. The group is closely linked with tribes such as the Mascoutan, Menominee, Chippewa and Shawnee, and has close linguistic ties with the Kickapoo and Sauk peoples.
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The Meskwaki tribe temporarily settled in what would later become the Detroit, Michigan, area toward the beginning of the 1600s, having been pushed out of the Great Lakes region by the Iroquois. After Detroit, the Meskwaki people made their way to Green Bay and established villages where they grew squash, beans and corn. The men were avid hunters of buffalo and deer. After battling the French, the tribe traveled to the Mississippi River area and made new villages in the area that later became the state of Iowa. In the 1850s, the Meskwaki were permitted by the state to remain in this area under the agreement that they would remain peaceful and not seek government assistance.
In the past, the majority of Meskwaki people communicated in the Meskwaki tongue, which is part of the Algonquian language family. The language is also known by the name of “Fox language.” It is presently classified as being endangered because most younger Meskwaki descendants now use English in their daily lives instead. According to Cultural Survival, a nonprofit organization that is an advocate for indigenous people, the majority of its speakers are either elderly or middle-aged, which is causing the language to die out quickly.
The Meskwaki Settlement School states that Meskwaki homes were traditionally wigwams, which are structures shaped like rectangles or domes and concealed by bark. The wigwams often were portable. Wigwams were common from the 1600s into the 1800s and beyond. In situations where multiple Meskwaki families lived together, spacious longhouses were also used. Meskwaki peoples in the southeastern part of the Midwest — the state of Iowa, for example — often resided in clay homes with round or cone roofs, as well.
Meskwaki men typically dressed in leggings and breechcloths, while women often dressed in wraparound skirts and buckskin dresses. In colder times, ponchos were often worn. For footwear, leather moccasins were commonplace. Some accessories they wore included woven bead belts, yarn sashes, beaded pendants and shell ornaments, such as necklaces. Nowadays, the Meskwaki people usually dress in standard Western clothing and accessories. However, traditional clothing is still very much alive and common in dance festivals and ceremonies.
In the present day, a handful of federally recognized Meskwaki tribes are still in existence. The tribes are located in Reserve, Kansas; Tama, Iowa; and Stroud, Oklahoma. The biggest tribe is the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. Modern Meskwakis meet to celebrate Proclamation Day in mid-July. It was known up until 1913 as “Field Days,” and came about originally as a corn crop harvesting celebration. In early August, the Meskwaki have a cultural event called a Pow Wow that is open to the public. The Pow Wow takes place in Tama, Iowa, and includes traditional arts and crafts, food, musical performances and dancing contests.