The Iowa Tribe speaks the Chiwere language and named the Missouri River “Nyisoje,” which means smoky or turbid water.
“It depends what day it is,” says Alan Kelley, vice chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. The Iowa Tribe has hunted, lived and camped along the Missouri River for over 400 years from Yankton, SD, all the way to St. Louis, MO.
Alan Kelley is a steward of the Missouri River and raised his family along its banks. Today Alan volunteers with the Kansas Water Office-Missouri Region and the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee working for the safety of water.
He is a descendent of Chief Noheart (of Fear) and shared the story of the bear claw regalia that is on display at the Mahaska Restaurant & Buffet with my Travois colleague, Adam Rose, senior project coordinator for affordable housing, and me during our recent visit.
Introductions to history, community revitalization efforts and future opportunities
Adam and I drove through the changing fall colors along the river to visit the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. We learned a great deal as Alan took us on a tour of the history and future opportunity of the community. Alan introduced us to the ancestral grounds still located on tribal land at the Leary Site National Historic Landmark.
The Iowa Tribe sits just beyond the hills past White Cloud, KS. From the tribe’s hilltops, one can straddle the Kansas and Nebraska state line while viewing the Iowa Tribe’s sacred homelands in distant Iowan fields.
The Ioway Bee farmers gather some of the finest honey of our region throughout the hills. We brought home every variety from the local convenience store on the reservation — creamed honey to bee pollen to cinnamon and blackberry varieties by the gallon. It was fun to share this treat with our Travois team in Kansas City.
Dr. Deborah Bryan, descendant of Chief Mahaska, is a regional physician and all-around community revitalization leader who is on the Business Board for the Iowa Tribe. Travois hosted Dr. Bryan and 60 regional artists at the Charlotte Street Foundation Rocket Grants event this past summer at our headquarters. The Iowa Tribe was recognized for their culture-bearing and public art.
Dr. Bryan and Iowa Tribe members and artists, Sydney Pursel and Ruby Rhodd (the granddaughter of Chief James White Cloud), are guiding a community mural on the walls of a reclaimed building on White Cloud’s Main Street, soon to be opened as the French Canoe Cafe.
Dr. Bryan is revitalizing the general store and opera house across the street where the Iowa Tribe bought goods for generations.
Healthy food access is an important issue for Alan and Deborah. Alan serves on Kansas Tribal Health Planning Committee, which includes neighboring Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kickapoo Tribe, and Sac and Fox Nation. They gather regularly to coordinate community health conversations and promote traditional cooking with the Native Chef LLC.
The Sunflower Foundation supports this inter-tribal health initiative and has highlighted each Kansas tribe here.
Consider a road trip to White Cloud
If you live in Kansas City, it’s only a 97-minute road trip to visit White Cloud, KS, and it includes glacial roads, outlooks and river breaks. As you ascend the hill toward the Iowa Tribe from White Cloud, pay respect to the history, culture and sacred sites.
If you want to kayak the Missouri River, rent your kayak from the rehabilitated General Store. Begin up river in the town of Rulo, NE, and end at the fishing station on the banks of White Cloud.
If you prefer to stay dry, bring your fishing pole and try your luck, like Adam, on the banks. Stay tuned for the opening of the White Cloud bed and breakfast or rent an Iowa Tribe cabin close to the casino. Enjoy!