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Ioway Cultural Institute : Student Resources

Resources on the Iowa or Ioway Indian tribe for students

This is a special section primarily for elementary school students looking for basic information on the Iowa culture for school projects (how the oldtime Iowa people lived, what they ate, what clothes they wore, etc.).

This section is arranged in a very direct way so that you can easily find what you are looking for. Common questions are listed, with their answers. As new questions are asked, they will be listed here, along with the answers.

What's the difference between "Iowa" and "Ioway"?

The Iowa Tribe is the same as the Ioway Tribe. Different sources spell them different ways based on differences in historic pronunciation. So whether you need to learn about the Iowa Indians or the Ioways, this is the right place! We will use both spellings here to get you used to that :)

Who are the Iowa or Ioway Indians?

We were the first tribe that inhabited the state of Iowa and parts of surrounding states. We are the reason the state of Iowa got its name. Our ancestors built burial mounds as part of the Woodland Culture. By the year 1000 (about the time of the Dark Ages in Europe) our ancestors had developed a new culture archaeologists call "Oneota". By the year 1650, our ancestors had split up into smaller groups, one of which became known as the Ioway or Iowa Indians. The government evicted the Ioway from our lands in Iowa through a series of treaties in the early 1800s. By 1836 we were relocated on a new reservation in Kansas. That reservation still exists today. In the 1880s, some Ioways moved to Oklahoma, and another reservation is located there. The Iowa are closely related to the Otoe and Missouri Indians.

Are there any good books on the Iowa Indians?

The only book available is The Ioway Indians, by Martha Royce Blaine. It is primarily focused on the history of the Iowa Tribe, and can be difficult to read even for adults because it has a lot of information. If you are high school age or older it would be worth reading. For junior high and younger, there are no books on the Ioways. You can find bits and pieces in old history journals, but many of them are hard to find and are not very accurate. That's why I decided to put together this website, to help answer the most common questions asked by students doing papers or projects on the Iowa Indians.

What did the Ioway Indians eat?

The Iowa Indians ate different foods just like people today. They hunted animals and grew crops. Some of the animals they hunted for food included buffalo, deer, elk, black bear, turkey, raccoon, and turtle. They also fished. They raised different varieties of corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers. They also gathered many wild plants in season, like mushrooms, greens, nuts, and berries. For special ceremonies they might eat dog, or a special dish called minke dashla (MEEN-kay dahsh-LAH), "singed raccoon." Their food was mostly cooked either roasted or as a soup or mush.

Today, Ioway eat the same food as everyone else. On special occasions we eat corn soup and frybread (dough fried in hot oil).

What did the Ioway Indians wear for clothes? How did they wear their hair?

It depended on the season and whether you were a man or woman. If you were a woman, you would wear a deerskin dress, decorated with porcupine quillwork or beads, and moccasins. If you were a man and it was summer and hot, you might wear nothing but a loin cloth or "breechcloth", with moccasins. A buffalo robe or blanket would complete your outfit.

When the Ioways were put on reservations, skins from buffalo and deer grew scarce and they started using cloth to make their outfits. Dress clothing was often black or dark blue with floral beadwork. Lots of ornaments were worn, especially beads or shells for earrings and necklaces.

Women did not wear headdresses. They wore their hair in two braids if they were single, and one braid down the back if they were married. Men usually shaved their head in "mohawk" fashion, with a single braid called a "scalplock" from the crown of the head. Men would wear a roach made from deer tails and turkey beards or porcupine hair tied to the scalplock. Feathers were often tied to the roach. Some men wore headresses of otter skins. Ioway people often also painted their faces, or were tattooed.

Where Did the Iowa Live?

The Iowa lived in the area which later took their name and became the state of Iowa. They also lived in parts of all surrounding states of Iowa at different times: Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. They lived in large villages during the warm months and scattered to hunt in the forest and plains in smaller groups during the winter.

What were the Creation Stories and Religion?

Each clan had its own creation story. Some had a story of the Flood. Most stories said the Earth was always here.

There were stories of Ma^u (MAH-oo), the Creator of the Earth. Wakanda was another name for the Thunder and powers of nature. After the Iowa Indians became Christian, they used the name Wakanda for God.

What were the Rites of Passage to become Adults?

Children learned to become adults by watching the adults in the tribe, boys learning from men and girls learning from women. Boys went on vision quests to find a spiritual direction, and were considered men when they went to war. Girls had a puberty ceremony when they were old enough to become mothers.

How did they get married?

Marriage was arranged between families. Families with chiefs tended to marry other families with chiefs. Boys presented horses and gifts to the girl's family. Then they set up their own household as a married couple.

What happened when someone died?

When someone died, their clan arranged the funeral ceremony. Songs were sung, and the body was dressed in its best clothes and wrapped up in a blanket or animal skin. Some clans buried the body in graves, but others put them up in platforms in the trees. The family mourned for a year and did not do ceremonies or dance. After the year was over they could participate again.

Do you have a question not answered here? Email me and I will post the answer!

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