Preserving The Meskwaki Language of Iowa.

(P-0305) In all truth, we can’t fully appreciate Our Iowa Heritage without embracing the history of those who tended this land long before any white settlers arrived here in 1832. For those of us living in Johnson County, we owe a great appreciation to the Meskwaki Tribe, led by Chief Poweshiek, men and women who cared for the Iowa River valley for many decades prior to the arrival of fur traders like Sumner “Hawkeye” Phelps and John Gilbert.

Wayne Pushetonequa – Director of the Meskwaki Language Preservation Program.

As I see it, part of that great appreciation for the Meskwaki people includes doing all we can in helping preserve the rich heritage of this unique native people of Iowa. In March, 2022, we had the distinct honor of attending an informative lecture by Wayne Pushetonequa – Director of the Meskwaki Language Preservation (MLP) Program, held in the historic Senate Chamber of Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

Mr. Pushetonequa had been invited by the University to speak about his MLP team’s on-going efforts in preserving the native Meskwaki language. Throughout his presentation, we heard a passionate overview of the importance of maintaining cultural identity through the tribe’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the everyday use of the Meskwaki language among the community.

Our language carries our identity. We, the Meskwaki people, will remain strong in our culture, past, present, and future, by continuing to speak our language. The mission of the Meskwaki Language Preservation Program is to promote language use, develop language resource materials for community, develop classroom resources for school and program sponsored classes, establish a repository of language materials, develop language learning programs, develop language teachers, and provide for the establishment of Meskwaki language classes.

Program Milestones: In the summer of 2012, MLP instituted a pilot immersion project for children ages 3 to 5 at the Meskwaki Settlement School. In 2014, through Tribal Council Resolution, the Early Childhood and Pre-Kindergarten programs transitioned into a Meskwaki immersion program. That same year, MLP launched the “Meskwaki Atoweno” poster campaign promoting the use and learning of the Meskwaki language.

Program Milestones: In 2014, the Tribal Employee Lunch and Learn Language Class was created to encourage Meskwaki Language usage in tribal departments. Several card games and language booklets were developed to encourage the utilization and learning of the Meskwaki language – all focused on reaching a younger audience.

Program Milestones: In 2015, The Meskwaki Language App was developed for use on Apple phones and made available to the tribal community in December of that year. In 2016, the Android version of the app was made available to the community, and the Meskwaki Language iBook series was developed and made available for download through the Apple Store. A total of eleven iBooks have been developed.

Program Milestones: In 2017, a pilot project on adult immersion was initiated at the Meskwaki Settlement School to increase language skills of Language Teacher Assistants, and a pilot Meskwaki Reading and Writing class was implemented. Two Beginning Adult Language Classes were offered to the community, with Level II and III classes soon to follow. In 2018, two additional language instructors were hired, and Level IV and V classes were added.

Program Milestones: In 2020, because of Covid 19 restrictions, Zoom classes were implemented, including two Level I classes, two Level II classes, two Level III classes, and one Level IV Class. These classes encompassed a total of 68 language learners.

The MLP Staff.

Program Milestones: Through 2021, 275 individuals have contacted the program to express their interest in participating in language classes!

Learn the Meskwaki alphabet!

We encourage you to visit the MLP website and learn more!

Here’s a tip of the old hat to Wayne Pushetonequa and his MLP team.

The Meskwaki (Meshkwahkihaki, Mesquakie, or Meskwaki) people, called Renards (Fox) by the French, are known as “people of the red earth.” Often associated with the Sauk tribe, the Meskwaki were Algonquin-speakers originally from the northeastern United States forced west by European settlement. “Algonquin” comes from “alligewinenk” which means “come together from distant places.” The Algonquin language is unique, described by one historian as “soft and musical in comparison with the harsh guttural Narcoutah (language) of the Sioux.” The Meskwaki language is just one of several unique Algonquin dialects.

Click here to read more about the Meskwaki Tribe…

The Meskwaki people originally lived along the Saint Lawrence River in Canada. By the 1600s, the tribe had migrated to the region of present-day Michigan and later relocated to Wisconsin where, in 1712, they engaged in an extended period of conflict with the French known as the Fox Wars. By 1735, the Meskwaki people allied with the Sauk tribe to fend off Europeans and other hostile Native American tribes, moving southward from Wisconsin into the Mississippi River Valley (what is now Iowa, Illinois and Missouri).

After the Black Hawk War of 1832, the United States government stepped in, for treaty-making purposes, and combined the two tribes into a single group known as the Sauk (Sac) & Fox Confederacy or The Meskwaki Tribe. It was during this time (1832-1833) when the Meskwaki people were forced from their villages on the Mississippi River, migrating westward into, what is today, east-central Iowa.

Click here to read more about Chief Poweshiek and the Meskwaki Tribe in Johnson County…

As European fur-traders began exploring the many rivers of this new territory, they built trading posts alongside the Sauk and Fox villages that had relocated on the Des Moines, Skunk, English, Iowa and Cedar Rivers. Sadly, through a series of land concessions (1832-1842), under the name of “Sac & Fox,” the Meskwaki tribes were forced to move westward again and again, finally losing all of their lands in Iowa by 1845. It was at this point, the Meskwaki people were relocated to reservations in east-central Kansas.

The Meskwaki People – 1857 – The Sauk and Fox Confederation.

But fortunately, that’s not the end of the story! In 1857, a small number of determined Native Iowans from the Sauk & Fox tribes returned to buy back 80 acres, establishing, what is today known as, the Meskwaki Nation in Tama County in East Central Iowa. To our Native Iowan brothers and sisters, thank you for the kiowa (this is the place) heritage we share with you today! We are all richer because you have come back home!

The Four Seasons of Iowa (above) – takwania Moon of the Hard Crustbabokwi Moon of the Half-Cold/Half-Warmbenawi Moon of Midsummer nibeni Moon of the Ripening.

Click here to read about Remembrance Park – a new effort to recognize the importance of these earliest days in Johnson County history.

Click here to access our Rich Stories of Diversity Timeline.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Language Preservation – The Meskwaki Nation website

Meskwaki Language Preservation Facebook page

Meskwaki, Wikipedia

A video guide to the indigenous people of eastern Iowa, Lucas Farms Neighborhood Association

The Johnson County Historical Society website


Click here to go on to the next section…

Click here for a complete INDEX of Our Iowa Heritage stories…