Meskwaki tribal elder
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Born in 1933, Everett Kapayou was a distinguished tribal elder, flute song singer, and hand drummer from the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama. Known for his joke and story telling as well as his traditional singing, Kapayou was frequently the featured Master of Ceremonies at Meskwaki powwows. Everett learned much of his repertoire from his mother, Lucille Kapayou, a flute player of sacred and secular melodies. She taught him the melodies and then would recite the words to her son. Everett would memorize the song texts and then put the words and tunes together himself, since he mother was not a singer.
The Meskwaki, literally “the Red Earth People,” are of the Algonquin origin from the Eastern Woodland Culture area. The French referred to the tribe as "Les Renards" (The Fox) as far back as 1666, but they have always identified themselves as “Meskwaki.” In 1735, they allied with the Sauk allied to fend off Europeans and other Indian tribes, and both tribes moved southward from Wisconsin into Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. The US Government moved the Sauk and Meskwaki to a reservation in northeast Kansas in 1845, but some Meskwaki remained in Iowa. In 1857 the tribe purchased the first 80 acres in Tama County, and ten years later the U.S. Government finally began paying them annuities, which gave the Meskwaki a formal identity as the Sac and Fox of Iowa.
Everett Kapayou was quite clear in his feelings about “pilgrims” for their role in displacing Indian peoples and their cultures, but he often used humor to lessen the sting of his commentary. His mood and love songs were passed down through his family. They are especially important because they are the only traditional Meskwaki songs that may be sung outside of a sacred context—and thus heard by outsiders. The love songs are part of the courtship ritual: a young man would go into the woods near his girlfriend's home and sing love songs to her and sometimes play a flute.
Everett was well respected in his community where he performed for festivities and celebrations. In 1993, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Everett Kapayou for his artistry with a National Heritage Fellowship. He was a featured performer at the 1996 and the 2001 Festival of Iowa Folklife and can be heard on the Smithsonian-Folkways CD Iowa State Fare. To order, go to www.folkways.si.edu/40083.htm