Through A Butterfly

Ruby McAllister Bodeker
4 min readNov 26, 2020

Author’s Note: This essay was intended for publication prior to the November 3, 2020 General Election as a letter to the editor in a local Iowa newspaper. For a variety of reasons, it did not make it to press. I am publishing it on Thanksgiving as a tribute to my friend, Christina Blackcloud, with her blessing. Unfortunately, neither Ms. Blackcloud nor myself won our races this year for the Iowa State Legislature.

The work of the grassroots in Iowa has been stunted, but a sleeping prairie can always wake.

Before we even met, I came to know Christina Blackcloud — the Democratic candidate for Iowa House District 72 and a member of the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (the Meskwaki Nation)— through a butterfly.

America has a history of using the languages of its Native and Indigenous people to categorize things and this extended to the naming of butterflies.

The Poweshiek skipperling — a small, brown-and-orange butterfly that once populated the tallgrass prairies of the Upper Midwest — is one such butterfly species.

Poweshiek skipperlings preserved in a private collection.

History says it was named for the Iowa county in which it was first found — Poweshiek — in the summer of 1870 on a prairie slope.

The county itself was named for Poweshiek, a Meskwaki leader who died in the 1850s.

Ms. Blackcloud is the granddaughter of the late Frances Poweshiek Blackcloud, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Poweshiek.

Back in 2018, I was writing for a local newspaper in Benton County, Iowa about the disappearance of insects from our state — “the silent prairies” as a local biologist had described it to me, with the focus being on the Poweshiek skipperling.

This petite butterfly has been used in countless articles, conservation newsletters, and scientific journals to drive home a point — our biological diversity is disappearing across the globe.

A combination of land-use change, warming temperatures, and insecticide/pesticide drift more than likely led to the butterfly’s disappearance.

Today the Poweshiek skipperling is listed as Endangered — absent entirely from the Dakotas, Iowa, and Minnesota — and reliably found only in a few locations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada.

A prairie slope in Iowa that might have once boasted the Poweshiek skipperling.

The little copper-winged butterfly that evolved in tandem with the prairie grasses, has been mostly lost to the ages.

While researching my article I began to wonder about the name Poweshiek.

I had plans to write another article delving into the name, highlighting the similarities between the disappearance of biological diversity from Iowa and the forced removal of the people from which the Poweshiek skipperling’s name derived.

For a year I churned that story in fleeting moments of free time, but ultimately never found time to write it.

In 2019, I met Ms. Blackcloud at an event in Tama County announcing her candidacy for the Iowa House.

As a fellow candidate in adjacent House District 75, we exchanged contact information and I mentioned the article I had written about the Poweshiek skipperling, asking if she knew of any remaining descendants of the Poweshiek line.

“There are not that many of us left,” Ms. Blackcloud said.

Much like the butterfly.

Today, voters in Marshall, Tama, and Black Hawk counties have the opportunity to elect the first Native American to the Iowa Legislature.

A vote for Ms. Blackcloud is also an acknowledgment that diversity in our great state matters, not just among our people, but in our landscape.

The little Poweshiek skipperling is unlikely to ever return to our state, but its legacy is written in the story of Ms. Blackcloud, her family, and her work toward a more sustainable Iowa.

A vote for Ms. Blackcloud is a vote for someone whose roots in Iowa run so deep, they cannot be broken no matter how much the landscape changes.

There is much resting on the wings of that tiny butterfly.

It’s time we acknowledge our history and bring new voices to the Iowa Legislature — voices who are ready to work for all Iowans.

It’s time to send Christina Blackcloud to the Iowa Statehouse.

Visit to learn more about Ms. Blackcloud and the work she undertook as a candidate for the Iowa Legislature this past year.



Ruby McAllister Bodeker

A prairie voice for working people and rural spaces. Co-host of the podcast