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Native American + Native Alaskan Heritage Month 2021

Native American Alaskan Heritage Month

November 1, 2021

Header image: On November 14, 2019 the “First People” of Iowa were recognized with a permanent display in the Iowa State Capital building.

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. Native American Plaque

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 Meskwaki 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 Meskwaki tribe returned to Iowa where tribal representatives had purchased land in Tama county, along the Iowa River. (1) lib.uiowa.edu/exhibits/previous/native/

Native American Current Trends in Iowa

According to the State Data Center of Iowa’s “Native Americans in Iowa” 2020 report, there are estimated to be 17,060 Native Americans and Alaska Natives in Iowa based on 2019 numbers. This places Natives as less than half a percent of Iowa’s population today. Here are a few stats of note:

  • 1,758 – The number of American Indian and Alaska Natives in Sioux City making it largest population of American Indian and Alaska Natives in any city in Iowa
  • 31.7% – The poverty rate for the Iowa American Indian and Alaska Native population in 2019. The corresponding rate for Iowa is 11.
  • $27,589 – The median income of Iowa American Indian and Alaska Native families in 2019. The median family income for the state was $78.152.
  • 8.8% – The unemployment rate for Iowa American Indian and Alaska Natives in 2019. The Iowa unemployment rate at that time was 4.9%.

During Native American and Alaska Native heritage 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.

  • Iowa is named after the Iowa tribe.
  • Meskwaki Code Talkers received Congressional Medals in 2008.

Meskwaki Iowa

Meskwaki Nation (Iowa)

 U.S. Mint

U.S. Mint

  • 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. memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/jun02.html
  • 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 1890s. 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. 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. 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. pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pandeAMEX38.html


Iowa’s Office of Native Americans

Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs

Meskwaki Nation (Sac and Fox)

Iowa State Historical Society

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Library of Congress: National Native American Heritage Month

National Congress of American Indians

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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.