The Mesquakie Settlement School

European-American missionaries traveled to the territory of Iowa to teach Native Americans to be Christians and to read, write and speak English. Missionaries taught Potawatomi, Winnebago, Chippewa and Mesquakie in mission homes and churches. In the mid-1800s they sometimes sent Native American children to boarding schools in other parts of the country.

Single Room

Most Native Americans did not want a European-American education. They already had their own cultures and their own ways of educating their children. But in 1875 the United States Government opened a settlement school for the Mesquakie tribe in Tama County. The single schoolroom was housed in the two-story government administration building, and the teacher lived upstairs. Through an interpreter students learned to read, write and speak English.

The school, like most to come, did not progress as the government had hoped. The few students who did attend often missed school to go to tribal ceremonies. School attendance wasn't always forced. When the Mesquakies went to winter camps, the whole family went and the children missed school.

The Industrial School

In 1896 an "industrial school" opened in the government building. Native American students only spent mornings inside studying. Afternoons were set aside for gardening, agriculture and carpentry.

Not long after the industrial school opened, the government wanted more control over Mesquakie children. Without the support of tribal leaders, the government built a boarding school in nearby Toledo. Fifty Mesquakie students were enrolled when the Toledo Boarding School opened in 1898.

Although some students went home on weekends, the boarding school disrupted tribal life and took children away from their parents. The government could not legally force Mesquakie children to attend the school, but some government officials tried. Parents went to court to stop them. Because so few Mesquakie children attended the boarding school, Native American children were brought in from across the country. The school closed in 1910.

Day Schools

After the boarding school closed, two "day schools" were built on the settlement. Day schools are schools where students come just for the day and go back to their homes for the night. The two day schools on the settlement joined in 1938 to form the Sac and Fox Day School.

Today Mesquakie education is in the hands of the tribe at the Mesquakie Settlement School in Tama. Mesquakie students go to school close to home and are taught by those who understand tribal ways. When students reach the ninth grade, they leave the Mesquakie Settlement School for North Tama County Community School District.

Adapted from original article written by Amy Ruth, The Goldfinch 16, No. 1 (Fall 1994). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.

 

 


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