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Who are Fox Indians?

The Fox Indians, known as the Meskwaki, are a Native American tribe with a rich cultural tapestry woven through the Midwest's history. Their resilience in the face of adversity and commitment to tradition paint a vivid portrait of a people deeply connected to their heritage. How has their enduring spirit shaped their identity today? Join us to uncover their story.
Kevin P. Hanson
Kevin P. Hanson

The Fox Indians are a Native American tribe made up of Sac, Asakiwaki (Sauk) and Meshwahkihaki (Mequakie/Fox) people. They are indigenous to the northeastern regions of the present-day United States. In the Algonquin language spoken by the Fox Indians, Asakiwaki means "people of the yellow earth" and Meshkwahkihawi means "people of the red earth." The origin of the word Algonquin is said to come from alligewinenk, which translates to "come together from distant places."

The specific dialects of the Algonquin language that the Fox Indians spoke are called Mesquakie-Sauk. Mesquakie was primarily used by the Meskwaki, or Fox, Indians, and Sauk was spoken mainly by the Asakiwaki, or Sac, tribes. These two dialects are reciprocally understandable. Some linguists regard the Kickapoo language as another separate dialect of Mesquakie-Sauk. This theory is not universally accepted, however, because the Kickapoo language has over time developed tone distinctions which are generally not comprehensible by Mesquakie-Sauk speakers.

The Fox Indians used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare along the waterways of the Great Lakes region.
The Fox Indians used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare along the waterways of the Great Lakes region.

Fox Indians made their home around the shores of the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, when the first contact by Europeans was made. In 1832, a war broke out between the Sac and Fox Indians and the US. The war became known as the Black Hawk War, and it made tribal leaders Black Hawk and Keokuk cultural icons. One of the results of the Black Hawk War was that many members of the tribes moved out of the region. They wandered through many different locations, including the modern-day states of Iowa, Illinois and Kansas, before eventually settling in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in the 1870s.

Up until 1937, this American Indian tribe was known as the Sac and Fox Tribe of Indians of the Mississippi River. That year, the tribe established themselves as an organized, federally-recognized tribe. This was made possible, in part, by the enactment of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1934. The act also brought about an open tribal enrollment available to anyone named in their tribal rolls, along with descendants who have at least one-eighth Sac and Fox blood.

The Fox Indians hold the belief that the Great Spirit chose a fertile valley and the land in its vicinity as the tribe’s home. The spirit reportedly demanded that the Sac and Fox Indians look upon themselves as tribal brothers. Each tribe, however, developed its own unique sacred philosophies. Culture within the tribes is mainly based on reverence for the life within each person, family and community.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Fox Indians?

The Fox Indians, also known as the Meskwaki or Mesquakie, are a Native American tribe originally from the Western Great Lakes region, particularly what is now Michigan. They are known for their rich cultural heritage, including their language, which is part of the Algonquian language family. The Fox were closely linked with the Sauk tribe, and together they formed a powerful alliance that resisted French and later American expansion.

What is the historical significance of the Fox Indians?

The Fox Indians played a significant role in the early history of North America. They were involved in the Fox Wars (1712-1733) against French colonial forces, which had a lasting impact on the power dynamics in the Great Lakes region. Their alliance with the Sauk was also crucial during the Black Hawk War in 1832, which was one of the last Native American resistances in the area before forced removals.

Where do the Fox Indians live today?

Today, the Fox Indians, or the Meskwaki, primarily reside in Iowa, where they have a settlement near Tama. This settlement is unique because it was purchased by the tribe in the 1850s, making it one of the few pieces of land in the Midwest owned by a Native American tribe rather than being designated as a reservation by the government. They also live in other parts of the United States, including Kansas and Oklahoma.

What are some cultural practices of the Fox Indians?

The Fox Indians maintain a variety of cultural practices that reflect their heritage. These include traditional ceremonies, dances, and the creation of intricate crafts such as beadwork and basketry. Language preservation is also a key cultural focus, with efforts to teach the Meskwaki language to younger generations. Additionally, the annual Meskwaki Powwow is a significant event that showcases their cultural traditions.

How do the Fox Indians contribute to contemporary society?

The Fox Indians contribute to contemporary society in numerous ways, including economic development through their casino and hotel enterprises. They also participate in cultural exchanges and educational programs to raise awareness about Native American history and culture. The Meskwaki are active in environmental conservation efforts, recognizing the importance of protecting natural resources for future generations.

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Discussion Comments


I am studying the fox tribe and I am saddened to see that they are not as important as other tribes.


@JimmyT - Although it is a significant moment in the tribes history what is a little sad is that the Fox Indians are only remembered in American history because of the Black Hawk War.

There is so much in the tribes history that can be studied, such as the exploits of chief Keokuk and Black Hawk, but the focus has to be put on the battles and the bloodshed that occurred.

In studying history it has always been a problem to study Indian histories and is very difficult to obtain a detailed account of a tribes history because of the focus on the Indian wars and the perspective that the history was written from. Does anyone know where I can go to get detailed accounts of Indian history from a perspective that is not incredibly biased?


I lived around the Quad Cities around Iowa and Illinois for a time and there was always a very big deal made out of the Black Hawk War.

It was really interesting to think that where I lived there were famous Indian leaders such as Chief Blackhawk and Chief Keokuk regularly traveling to small towns in the area to deal with various issues.

There are several stories that exist where I lived that Chief Keokuk would travel to town whenever a member of his tribe was arrested and either negotiate his release or come to some sort of compromise with the local law enforcement. One time there was a murder and the man, who was a member of his tribe, fled town. Keokuk came and brought his next of kin to be punished, as this was the tradition of his tribe. Law enforcement did not accept the next of kin and kept looking for the man but thanked Keokuk for his honesty and trying to make right.

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    • The Fox Indians used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare along the waterways of the Great Lakes region.
      By: Shchipkova Elena
      The Fox Indians used canoes to trade, fish, and conduct warfare along the waterways of the Great Lakes region.