The Meskwaki

300 years ago to modern day

The Meskwaki diorama is a full-scale re-creation of a winter lodge, a dome-shaped, cattail mat-covered structure that was built in a protected area each year after the harvest. The Meskwaki called these lodges wickiups When the French drove the Meskwaki from Wisconsin in the late seventeenth century, the tribe moved into eastern Iowa with their allies, the Sauk. The Meskwaki have been dedicated to maintaining their Iowa home. When the federal government tried to move them with the Sauk to a Kansas reservation, they resisted. Some settled with Pottawatomi Indians in southwestern Iowa in the 1840s, while others remained in central Iowa along the Iowa, Cedar and Skunk rivers. In 1856, an Iowa law allowed the Meskwaki to buy land in present-day Tama County, where today's Meskwaki Settlement is located. Meskwaki tradition and culture remain visible in activities like the annual August Pow-Wow, a celebration of the first corn harvest of the season that includes food, songs, arts and crafts, and colorful dances. The scene at the lodge suggests the broad range of activities in daily Meskwaki life during autumn in the 1840s. In the diorama's background, another winter lodge is being constructed. Beside the lodge, a Meskwaki woman stirs sumac in a brass kettle over a fire to make dye for a woven bag. Inside the structure, teaching and preparation for a Meskwaki ceremony take place, as a boy watches his grandfather carve a wooden bowl for use in a naming ceremony. The scene was created with help from a group of Meskwaki Indians from Tama, who provided advice during planning for the diorama. The taped narration accompanying the exhibit, which includes passages spoken in the Meskwaki language, was recorded by individuals from the present-day Tama settlement.