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American Indian + Alaska Native Heritage Month 2020

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

November 4, 2020

The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. In 1986, Congress passed a law and President Ronald Reagan signed the proclamation authorizing American Indian Week. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month. After 100 years of efforts to recognize American Indians, National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month is celebrated to recognize native cultures and educate the public about the heritage, history, art and traditions of the American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

In 2019, the Iowa Legislative Council approved a request to place a display in the Iowa State Capitol building honoring Iowa Native tribes. The Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs had been working with the Iowa Legislative Council for over eight years to accomplish the goal of recognizing the contributions and history of the state’s indigenous people according to Jill Avery, Iowa Department of Human Rights. In June of 2019, approval was granted and a space provided for the display. On November 14, 2019 the “First People” of Iowa were recognized with a permanent display in the Iowa State Capitol building.

The display contains tribal flags from some of the many Native tribes that lived in Iowa. One of those tribes was the Iowa and is the origin of the state’s name. The tribes represented in the display are: Citizen Potawatomi Nation (Neshnabe), Iowa Tribe of Kansas (Baxoje), Iowas of Oklahoma (Baxoje), Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (Anishinaabe), Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa (U-Mo’n-Ho’n), Otoe-Missouria Tribe (Jiwere), Ponca Tribe of Nebraska (Usni), Rosebud Tribe of South Dakota (Sicangu Oyate), The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki), Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska (Isanti) and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska (Ho-Chunk). A ceremonial pipe, a “Native Veteran” hat, a plaque thanking the supporters of the display and a copy of the Sac and Fox bylaws were placed in the display. Plants, used in traditional ceremonies, were also included, featuring cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco.Flags Display

Native American History in Iowa

Native Americans have a long history in Iowa going back thousands of years. In early historical times, the tribes residing in Iowa were the Ioway (northern, central and eastern Iowa) and the Sioux (northwest Iowa). In the eighteenth century, the Sauk and Mesquakie were driven out of their ancestral homelands in eastern Wisconsin by the Ojibwa, with the assistance of the French. They resettled in western Illinois and eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River and some of its tributaries. The subsequent forced removal of the Sauk to the western side of the Mississippi was the principal cause of the Black Hawk War of 1832. In 1837, a band of Potawatomi from northeastern Illinois were resettled in southwestern Iowa, and in 1840, the Winnebago of Wisconsin were moved by the U.S. Army to northeastern Iowa. All of these tribes, except the Sioux who had earlier abandoned their lands, were resettled by the U.S. Government on reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma during the mid- and late 1840s. By 1850, no organized groups of Indians remained in Iowa. The story does not end here. In 1857, a portion of the Mesquakie tribe returned to Iowa where tribal representatives had purchased land in Tama county along the Iowa River. Images: lib.uiowa.edu/exhibits/previous/native/

According to the State Data Center of Iowa’s Native Americans in Iowa: 2019 report there are estimated to be 16,681 Native Americans and Alaska Natives in Iowa based on 2018 numbers. This places Natives as less than half a percent of Iowa’s population today. During Native American and Alaska Native month, we encourage you to take a moment to learn more about the contributions, history, art and culture of native people. Links to resources are below as well as some facts you may not know.

Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month Facts

  • Iowa is named after the Ioway tribe.
  • In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, also known as the Snyder Act, giving American Indians the right to vote. After a survey in 1938 found that eight states still prohibited Indians from voting, several cases were brought to the Supreme Court. Utah, Minnesota and Arizona were the last states to allow the vote, and it wasn’t until 1965 that barriers to American Indians’ suffrage were eliminated in the United States.
    Source: https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/june-02/
  • The Poncas were the first to practice the ceremony that led to today's pow-wow. The Poncas called it the Hethuska, which began around 1804. They passed this ceremony to the Kaw, and the Kaw in turn gave the dance to the Osage, who named it the Inlonschka. The next tribe to incorporate this ceremony was the Omaha, who passed the ceremony to the Lakota (Sioux) tribe. It seemed to become popular in the late 1890's. During this time, the Omaha, or "Grass" dance as it was then called, spread quickly. Unlike ceremonial dances of other tribes, the Grass dancers danced for the purpose of dancing itself, instead of a religious ceremony.
    Source: History of the Pow-wow
  • More than half of the U.S. states trace their names to Indian origins: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
    Source: The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, pg.6
  • Ohiyesa, also known as Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, was born in 1858 on a Santee Sioux reservation in Minnesota. He graduated from Dartmouth College, and then from medical school. After graduating, he worked as a doctor for the Indian Health Service on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he treated those injured in the U.S. Army attack on Lakota Chief Big Foot's band at Wounded Knee. In 1910, he helped to establish the Boy Scouts of America.
    Source: pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pandeAMEX38.html


The Greater Des Moines Partnership calendar of events is a one-stop resource for activities taking place throughout the region. Find networking information for Greater Des Moines (DSM) businesses or events specific to Downtown DSM.

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Timothy Perkins

Timothy Perkins is of Cherokee and Natchez tribal descent. Perkins has served in logistics, equal opportunity employment and education services. He serves as commissioner on the Governor's Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs and the Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, as well as on the Greater Des Moines Partnership's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, among others, and has more than 30 years of service within the military.