Education

University of Northern Iowa makes new promises to Meskwaki Nation

Campus workgroup collaborating on 'land stewardship statement,' scholarships

Youth drummers perform in August 2014 during the 100th annual Meskwaki Indian Powwow at the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama.
Youth drummers perform in August 2014 during the 100th annual Meskwaki Indian Powwow at the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama. (The Gazette)

In support of its diversity goals, land history and Native American neighbors to the south, the University of Northern Iowa is partnering with the Meskwaki Nation to create new scholarships, revive a summer program for Meskwaki youth and craft a “land stewardship statement.”

The statement will acknowledge the UNI campus sits on traditional Meskwaki homeland; it will recognize past and present tribal connections to the property; and it will “outline a set of principles for environmental and mission stewardship that honor the legacy of native and Indigenous heritage.”

“We know the university can enhance its support for native and Indigenous people and grow in how we honor their cultures,” Andrew Morse, assistant to the president, board and government relations, told The Gazette. “How we are affirming members of native and Indigenous communities as part of the Panther family will be a part of our regular review of policies, practices and programs.”

Among its first steps, UNI — once called Iowa State Teachers College and still known for its teacher-training expertise — is directing faculty and staff to establish a professional development program for language and culture teachers at the Meskwaki Settlement School near Tama.

UNI’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships also is developing new scholarship opportunities for graduates of the settlement school or South Tama High School “to promote their access and success if they choose to enroll at UNI.”

The goal of the scholarship program is to cover the full cost of tuition and fees — which is $8,938 for UNI resident undergraduates this academic year — through a combination of federal and institutional grant aid for students who meet two of three criteria:

• They identify as an underrepresented minority — including American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander;

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• They’re low-income, based on free- and reduced-lunch or Pell grant criteria;

• Or they participate in the TRIO program, which targets assistance to low-income, first-generation students.

And UNI is planning to reinstate a Meskwaki youth summer camp it hosted from 2014 to 2017, when it ended due to a staffing transition. In its previous form, the camp — which annually took 24 to 28 students — offered hands-on academic and recreational activities aimed at promoting creative, physical and cognitive development.

The idea was to instill leadership, teamwork, money management and other skills in school-aged children, preparing them to be leaders in college and after.

To resurrect the camp, a UNI and Meskwaki Settlement School work group is hammering out details about how best to help Meskwaki youth learn about college, find resources and become empowered and inspired to pursue postsecondary education.

Officials haven’t finalized camp dates and costs but stressed the goal is to provide access to anyone who wants it.

On the UNI campus, its Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice is establishing a student organization centered on honoring native and Indigenous cultures. That group, according to the UNI vision, will “enhance campus engagement opportunities.”

Of UNI’s total 9,522 students this fall, just 0.1 percent identify as Native American or Alaskan Native.

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Although UNI is working with the Meskwaki Nation to establish a more detailed and complete history of its 900-acre campus, the university reports its land formerly was stewarded by members of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Meskwaki Nation, as well as other tribes.

Before Iowa became a state in 1846, the Black Hawk War forced those of the Upper Mississippi out of Illinois and into Iowa. And the United States combined two tribes into the single Sac & Fox Confederacy, which through a series of concessions in 1845 lost all lands and was removed to a reservation in Kansas, according to the Meskwaki Nation.

But some Meskwakis stayed in Iowa, remaining hidden, while others returned later.

In July 1857, the Meskwaki formally bought 80 acres in Tama County. And today it owns more than 8,100 acres in Tama, Marshall and Palo Alto counties.

UNI got its start in 1876 as the “Iowa State Normal School,” transitioning over the years to the Iowa State Teachers College, State College of Iowa and now the University of Northern Iowa.

A draft of the “land stewardship statement” spelling out their collective history and commitments is in the works this fall, to be reviewed by the campus’ shared governance groups before adoption.

UNI, though, already has gone public with some of its promises, including:

• To “lift up our Indigenous faculty and staff by exploring and implementing programs and practices that support their personal journeys and affirm their value as members of the Panther Family;”

• Nurture Indigenous students by honoring their cultures and offering financial and other supports, including recruitment, retention and success;

• Build relationships with Indigenous tribes and organizations to inform UNI’s work;

• Develop explicit strategies for maintaining knowledge learned through collaborations;

• Create an internal framework to instill institutional memory for curation of knowledge and to “ensure it remains a living and evolving body of useful information.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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