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Ioway Cultural Institute : The Ioway Virtual Library

Iowa (article from Native America in the Twentieth Century)

By Lance M. Foster

1994 (hardcover)/1996 (softcover)"Iowa." In Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. Pp. 276-277. Edited by Mary B. Davis. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc. ©1994-1996 Lance M. Foster and Garland Publishing, Inc.

[Important Note: This article was first published in 1994, and many of the facts on such things as population and land ownership have changed. For the most recent figures available, check the main pages on each of the two branches].


The Iowa call themselves "Ioway," or, in their own language, Paxoje ("Dusty Noses"). The preferred usage is "Iowa" for the legal tribal entities (the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, and the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma), and "Ioway" for the people themselves. The Ioway people are divided into two independent groups: the Southern Ioway, in Oklahoma, and the Northern Ioway, in Kansas and Nebraska. This split occurred soon after the Civil War, with one group accepting individual allotment of lands near the Missouri River along the Kansas-Nebraska border. The other group left for Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in the 1870s, in order to continue to live in the traditional way on lands held in common.

The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska (R.R. 1, Box 58A, White Cloud, Kansas) is located on a 1,500acre reservation in the extreme northeastern corner of Kansas (Brown and Doniphan Counties) and the extreme southeastern corner of Nebraska (Richardson County). The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma (P.O. Box 190, Perkins, Oklahoma) does not have a federally recognized reservation. After their move to Indian Territory in the 1870s, they were eventually assigned a reservation there in 1883. After the Dawes Act of 1887, this reservation, which bordered unassigned lands, was opened to white settlers as part of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run.

The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska is administered by its Executive Committee and is located on a reservation near White Cloud, Kansas. It is served by the Horton Indian Agency in Horton, Kansas, which provides health and other services. The Iowa Tribe owns a tribal farm operation, a dairy herd, a gas station, a fire station, a bingo operation, and a grain processing business operating out of a leased mill in Craig, Missouri. The approximately 1,500-acre reservation is checkerboarded with Indian and non-Indian ownership, and reacquisition of the land base is seen as a primary goal, as well as developing an infrastructure attractive to potential employers. About 588 Ioway were reported to be living on or near the reservation in 1993; many live in nearby towns in Kansas and Nebraska. The total enrollment for the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska is reported at 2,089, although blood quantum is often quite low.

Directed to accept a form of tribal government based on a model provided by the federal government as part of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Oklahoma Iowa finally ratified a Tribal Constitution delimited by that model. The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma is administered by its Business Committee, located near Perkins, Oklahoma. It is served by the Shawnee Indian Agency, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, but the tribe contracts with the Potawatomi for health and food programs. The Iowa Tribe owns about 200 acres of scattered land in trust as well as a bingo operation. Of 366 individuals on the tribal roll, nine are listed as full-bloods. Blood quantum tends to be higher than among the Kansas group, but the requirement was lowered to 1/16 around 1991. The Oklahoma loway live on about 1,300 acres of individually owned land, much of which is surface-leased to non-Indians for grazing or farming. Leasing provides some income, but most of the Ioway have jobs in nearby towns. Fifty-two land owners gain some income from oil and gas leases. As a member of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma is currently fighting a toxic dump proposed by a subsidiary of Amoco, which is to be located on burial grounds in Mercer County, Missouri.

The Iowa of Oklahoma shared in the almost $8 million land claims judgment awarded to both groups of Ioway by the Indian Claims Commission in the 1970s. Notable leaders of this century have included Marvin Franklin of the Kansas Ioway, who was appointed as acting commissioner of Indian affairs in 1973, and Chief David Tohee, Blaine Nawanoway Kent and Solomon Nawanoway Kent of the Oklahoma Ioway.

Alanson Skinner visited the Oklahoma Ioway in 1914, and both groups in 1922 and 1923. He collected for the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Museum of the American Indian in New York; these two museums have the best collections of Ioway material culture. Skinner's ethnographic work provides the most complete data on traditional Ioway culture. It includes Societies of the Iowa, Kansa, and Ponca Indians (1915), Medicine Ceremony of the Menomini, Iowa, and Wahpeton Dakota (1920), "Traditions of the Iowa Indians" (1925), and Ethnology of the Ioway Indians (1926).

Community life in both tribes is based on extended kinship groups, with some use of the traditional clan system among the Oklahoma Ioway, notably during funerals. Factionalism is present in both groups, and limited interaction occurs between the Oklahoma and Kansas Ioway, except for mutual visits in a few families. Each group sponsors an annual powwow, and the Kansas Ioway also have a rodeo. Artwork tends to be individualized and produced for in-group use, such as ribbonwork and beadwork used in dance regalia. [277]

The Ioway language is grouped with Otoe and Missouria as Chiwere, a Siouan language, and is closely related to Winnebago. It is difficult to say how many speakers of the language are left; a few Northern Ioway know mostly isolated words and phrases, and some Southern Ioway families attempt to keep some limited use, especially if there are older members in the family, or if they are trying to strengthen their identity as loway. William Whitman described the language in "Descriptive Grammar of the loway-Oto" (1947). A two volume primer, Iowa and Otoe Indian Language (1977,1978), was developed by Lila-Wistrand-Robinson and Jimm Garrett Good Tracks as part of the Christian Children's Fund American Indian Project. Garrett Good Tracks has also edited a lexicon, Iowa-Otoe-Missouria Language to English (1992), distributed by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Almost all of the Ioway in Kansas and Oklahoma identify themselves as Christians of various Catholic and Protestant denominations. Some, even self-identified Christians, attend ceremonies such as funerals, namings, Native American Church meetings (more popular earlier in the century), sweats, and intertribal dances. Some Ioway, especially those living away from their home communities, make friendships with members of other tribes and join in their ceremonies. Several individuals and families are attempting to redefine their identities as Ioway through the retention of the Ioway language, the reinterpretation of remembered cultural elements, and the borrowing of missing cultural elements from appropriate, similar models in other tribes.


--Lance M. Foster

Further Reading

Anderson, Duane. "loway Ethnohistory: A Review, Part II." Annals of Iowa, 3rd ser. 42 (1973): 41-59.

Blaine, Martha Royce. The Ioway Indians. Civilization of the American Indian 151. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.

Herring, Joseph B. The Enduring Indians of Kansas. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990.

Wedel, Mildred Mott. "Iowa." Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 13. Plains. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, forthcoming.

Wright, Muriel H. A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma. Civilization of the American Indian 33. 1951. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1986.

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