Iowa’s first dual-language signs are installed on U.S. 30 near Tama
What does the Iowa Department of Transportation’s core focus “Making lives better through transportation” mean in reality? For our Cultural Resources team, it means working with Iowa’s tribes to help preserve their culture for future generations and bring the heritage of native peoples to travelers.
Traveling on U.S. 30 near Tama, you’ll notice new signs erected at the edge of the Meskwaki Settlement. The sign features the Meskwaki Tribal Logo next to the native language spelling of the tribe “Meskwakiinaki”, which is above the English spelling of “Meskwaki Settlement.”
The tribe’s Director of Language Preservation, Wayne Pushetonequa, says, “The sign shows a priority for our language. Our language is prominently displayed there for the world and for our children to see that. Our language is important, it’s part of who we are. We should be putting it out there for people to see. The sign says, ‘This is the Land of the Meskwaki’, in our language, so it’s very appropriate for our children to see and be proud of.”
Tribal members talk about what the dual-language signs means to the Meskwaki Nation.
The idea for a dual-language sign originated at the 2017 Tribal Summit in Tama. The Summit was joined by members of the Minnesota DOT, who shared examples of some dual-language signs they have in place. Over the next couple of years, Iowa DOT had discussions with the Meskwaki Elders about various iterations of the sign. These discussions were put on pause in the spring of 2020 during the global COVID pandemic. Then in May 2021, the Meskwaki Nation formally requested the new signs. After a handful of design and location discussions, signs were made.
On July 13, 2022, the Iowa DOT with the help of about 60 Meskwaki Nation members, unveiled two brand new dual-language highway signs. These signs are an exciting addition to US-30, letting drivers know when they have crossed into Meskwaki land. Iowa is only the eighth state to erect a dual-language sign.
The date for the unveiling was specifically selected as July 13 which serves as a national holiday for the Meskwaki Nation. Proclamation Day or Meskwaki Day is a day of celebration commemorating the establishment of the Meskwaki settlement. The special event included several DOT employees and a large group of tribal members who came to see the sign unveiling. There were elders, and tribal members, including many families with young children. As part of the ceremony, Brennan Dolan, tribal liaison for the Iowa DOT, was honored by the Tribe for his part in making the signs a reality. Dolan said, “I was extremely touched by the acknowledgment of the Tribe. We have an excellent working relationship built on honor and respect that has developed over time and will continue far into the future.”
Mark Bear, the Police Commissioner for the Meskwaki Nation Police Department, says, “The sign helps explain to those traveling through Highway 30 in this particular area, that they are in a shared jurisdiction. One that is with the tribe and the state of Iowa.”
A little background on the Meskwaki:
The Meskwaki Settlement near Tama is not a reservation. Although forced to leave the state in the 1840s, on July 13, 1857, Meskwaki ancestors (with permission from Governor Grimes and the Iowa legislature) bought back 80 acres of land in Tama County. This wasn’t just any 80 acres; it was 80 acres where they had already lived and raised their children. What makes this so special is that the Meskwaki people are a Sovereign Nation. By purchasing the land, the Meskwaki Nation owns the rights, enabling the Tribe to make sovereign decisions about their government, schools, social programs, etc. The Meskwaki Tribe worked extremely hard over the next 130 years, expanding tribal territory. Today, the Meskwaki Tribe has more than 1,450 enrolled members and owns more than 8,000 acres mostly in Tama and Marshall Counties. Meskwaki Nation is also the largest employer in Tama, employing over 1,200 people.
For more information about the Meskwaki Nation, visit https://www.meskwaki.org/.