Grant of $5 million allows return of Kaw Nation spiritual rock misappropriated in 1929

Stone placed in Lawrence park to honor city’s early settlers

By: - April 10, 2022 10:06 am
A $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation will finance movement to Kaw Nation land the large sacred rock placed in a Lawrence public park nearly 100 years ago to honor settlers in the region. The repatriation of the rock is expected to be finished next sprint. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

A $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation will finance movement to Kaw Nation land the large sacred rock placed in a Lawrence public park nearly 100 years ago to honor settlers in the region. The repatriation of the rock is expected to be finished next sprint. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A massive rock of cultural and spiritual significance to the Kaw Nation moved from Tecumseh to Lawrence nearly a century ago to honor the city’s settlers will be relocated to tribal land near Council Grove with a $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation.

In 2021, the Kaw Nation requested return of the 25-ton boulder from the City of Lawrence. The city and Douglas County agreed to unconditional return of the stone to the Kaw people and formally apologized to the Kaw Nation for taking the rock displayed since 1929 in a downtown park along the Kansas River dedicated to Charles Robinson, the state’s first governor.

Kaw Nation Vice Chairman James Pepper Henry said the Kaw Nation was grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s financial support for return of what was described as a sacred ancestor known as In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe and pronounced EE(n) ZHOO-jay wah-HO-bay.

“This grant will also provide resources to implement an interpretive plan and infrastructure for our visitors to learn about the Kaw people, the original inhabitants of Kansas,” he said. “We look forward to working in cooperation with the city of Lawrence, University of Kansas and other project partners to facilitate this process and to strengthen our relationship and visibility with the citizens of Kansas.”

The 30-month project calls for transporting the glacial rock to Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park. That land near Council Grove has been owned by the tribe since 2002. It’s a portion of reservation lands of the Kaw Nation in Kansas before tribal removal in 1873 to Indian Territory that became Oklahoma.

Experts have conducted ground-penetrating radar examination of the rock’s internal structure to make precautions for moving the large object. The move could be completed by spring 2023.

The substantial rock relocated from confluence of Shunganunga Creek and the Kansas River near Tecumseh to a public park in the City of Lawrence will be returned to the Kaw Nation. The sacred stone was used to honor Lawrence’s founders. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Activities associated with the physical movement of the rock include gatherings at In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe’s original location along the Kansas River, prayers proceeding and during the move, and ceremonies to welcome the rock to Allegawaho Park.

Pauline Eads Sharp, of the Kanza Heritage Society, said the organization was honored to be part of the joint effort to return In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe to the Kaw people.

“Our mission is to support the continuum of the cultural lifeways of the Kanza. We appreciate the recognition and support of the Mellon Foundation to assist in this endeavor,” Sharp said.

The rock found its place at the confluence of the Shunganunga Creek and the Kansas River during a period of North American glaciation approximately 300,000 years ago.

In 2015, Kansas artist Dave Loewenstein began working with Sharp to gather stories of In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe in an effort to bring attention to its misuse. Their project led to a collaboration with the Mid-America Arts Alliance, Lawrence community members and members of the Kaw Nation.

The Mellon Foundation launched the Monuments Project Initiative in 2020 with a $250 million commitment to help preserve stories of people often denied historical recognition. Among the first grants was $4 million in support of Monument Lab, a nonprofit public art and history studio in Philadelphia.

The Monument Lab conducted a national monument audit to assess the commemorative landscape in the United States. Surveyors spent a year scouring records of historic properties created and maintained by federal, state, local, tribal, institutional entities. The inquiry focused on nearly 50,000 conventional monuments. The objective was to broaden understanding of influences that shaped the monument landscape, raise questions about the monuments and debunk misperceptions.

The audit confirmed the monument landscape was overwhelmingly white and male. The most common feature of U.S. monuments reflected war and conquest. Stories attached to monuments misrepresented the nation’s history.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.