Until Lance M. Foster came along to simplify the process for us, sorting out the framework of Iowa’s American Indian past involved a major research project for anyone interested in doing it.
Although much of the information was out there, it was necessary to consult scattered articles in publications scholarly and otherwise, chapters in a variety of books of varying veracity, plus other sources --- while dodging the pitfalls of white settler folktales and EuroAmerican bias --- then average the results, hoping for the best.
Foster, a member of the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska who returned to the land of his forebears to earn advanced degrees in anthropology and landscape architecture from Iowa State University, swept most of the confusion away with his “The Indians of Iowa,” published during 2009 by University of Iowa Press as a Bur Oak Book.
Reviews generally state that every Iowan interested in the state’s history should have this book on his or her shelf --- and the reviewers are right. I just added it to mine.
My only complaint, echoing that of others, is that it’s too short --- but that’s part of the point. The book’s 145 pages, which also contain an excellent bibliography, were intended to be an overview, not an in-depth study --- a launching point for further study.
Most Iowans know a little about our American Indian past. We’re surrounded by derived place names and many of us have attended the powwow at the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama. However …
After assembling a series of articles about the Indians of Iowa on his ISU student homepage during the mid-1990s, Foster writes, “I received an e-mail message from an anthropology professor at the University of Iowa, thanking me for the information and revealing that scholars had been teaching for over twenty years that the Ioway tribe was extinct.”
This despite the fact one of two Ioway tribe branches is headquartered near White Cloud, Kansas, just across the Missouri River and upstream a ways from St. Joseph, Missouri (the other branch is headquartered at Perkins, Oklahoma).
Foster writes clearly, concisely and gracefully, devoting short chapters to the tribes that rose in Iowa and others that relocated to newer homes here --- the Ioway, the Meskwaki, Sauk, Omaha and Ponca, Otoe and Missouria, Pawnee and Arikara, Potawatomi, the Illinois Confederacy, Santee and Yankton Sioux and the Winnebago.
Interspersed are “A closer look” chapters devoted to topics ranging widely from Indian women in Iowa to native spirituality.
It really is a must-have book for those interested in a comprehensive view of Iowa’s history and may be ordered directly from University of Iowa Press or from favorite booksellers.
Foster now lives in Montana where he devotes considerable time to his art. “The Indians of Iowa” is illustrated by his lovely drawings --- and a cover painting. His blog, “The Sleeping Giant,” his linked from the sidebar of this blog.