Building more than roads and bridges with our tribal partners

Iowa 31 archeologyRespect and understanding can create strong relationships between seemingly disparate groups. Iowa has a rich history of Native American inhabitants. These sovereign nations and tribes continue to have a vested interest in the land and all that it holds. When the Iowa Department of Transportation needs to disturb the land for a road or bridge construction project, our tribal partners are an invaluable resource to help preserve Iowa’s cultural heritage.


Tribal summits bring partners together

For decades the Iowa DOT has worked with our tribal partners to develop working relationships that benefit both project delivery and those interested in historic preservation. Beginning in 2001, the Iowa DOT has hosted periodic summits with the sovereign tribes and nations that have an interest in land use in our state to share information and foster these invaluable relationships.

The latest summit, held at the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama last October, represented a somewhat different perspective from previous meetings. Brennan Dolan, from our Cultural Resources group, said, “COVID really changed the way a lot of us do business. This was reflected in the tribal summit set-up. We were able to use more electronic resources to provide a well-rounded set of information to attendees from all over the Midwest.”

He continued, “We have been working with the sovereign tribes and nations for decades and we’re seeing a generational shift now. There is a new generation of leaders from both the government and tribal sides coming together as our predecessors did to foster these very important relationships.”

Summit highlights


Tribal Summit group photo
Group photograph of the 2022 Tribal Summit on Cultural Preservation and Transportation attendees.

Attendees at the summit included tribes that have either historic, ancestral, or ceded land interests from treaties in Iowa. Dolan said, “The summit’s goal was to discuss and refine effective project consultation. Whenever we have a road or bridge project, we thoroughly review potential cultural resources beneath the ground. Often those resources involve one or more of the tribes that call or used to call Iowa home. It is not uncommon for us to conduct archeology at a site that uncovers Native American artifacts. We consult with and rely on our tribal partners to properly and respectfully document and reduce the impacts to these historic and pre-historic sites.”

Presentations at the three-day event included an overview of Iowa DOT projects and a look back at how profoundly tribal representatives have shaped transportation projects since the 1960s. Dolan said, “Effective consultation requires listening and is more than ensuring all legal requirements are met. I expect recommendations from the summit to be used to improve the project consultation procedure and further cultural preservation efforts in Iowa.”

Other topics at the summit included:

  • Highlights of the Iowa DOT’s newest rest area near Glenwood celebrating the area’s Native American heritage using the art of Native American artists, presented by Dolan.
  • Information on human trafficking in the indigenous population, provided by David Lorenzen, Iowa DOT Systems Operations Division director
  • A reception at the Meskwaki Museum and Cultural Center.
  • Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act information.


Both general and specific recommendations from the summit participants were collected and a report was generated and distributed to all attendees.

Iowa DOT Chief Engineer Mitch Dillavou, who has attended every Tribal Summit since the original one in 2001 concluded the event saying, “At the first Summit, I could feel some distrust in the room. But the difference between then and now is night and day. I hope all the attendees can continue to have these needed conversations.”

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