The Meskwaki Tribe near Tama is hoping a new museum will help tell their story to the rest of the state and the country. Meskwaki historic preservation director, Jonathan Buffalo, says the idea for a museum had been around since the 1940’s, but it wasn’t at the top of the priority list.
“Life was hard, you know, there were other things to worry about, like decent housing, water, electricity, stuff like that,” Buffalo explains. “So a museum has always taken a back seat to whatever we had to do, even with the casino, we had to build a high school first, our health clinic, roads, housing. And now things are settling down so the idea of a museum is coming back.”
The museum has started out small and is in the tribe preservation office. Buffalo says it includes artifacts, utensils, photographs, documents, art, bead work, and other items passed down from the Tribe through the years.
“In some parts it’s a tribal thing, but then it’s open to the public because we can’t tell our history without telling state history, national history, you have to intertwine that stuff to understand us. And hopefully, when a non-Indian visitor visits, they walk away knowing a little bit about the tribe, and knowing a little bit about themselves too,” Buffalo explains.
There are approximately 1,300 members of the Meskwaki Tribe. Some probably already know about the Meskwaki settlement from its annual Pow Wows where they show off their native dress and dance. Buffalo says many others no doubt have seen or heard about the casino owned by the tribe and see it as the symbol of the group.
“And what they don’t realize is, we are a tribe with a casino, not a casino with a tribe. So hopefully our museum will explain that. That we have been here for a long time, that we are an ancient people on this continent,” Buffalo says. He hopes to expand the museum as they move forward.
The museum is now open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Buffalo says if the demand increases, they would look at opening on Saturdays too. For more information on the Meskwaki Nation, go to their website: www.meskwaki.org.