Kaw Nation will soon welcome Sacred Red Rock back to tribal land

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The Kaw Nation’s Sacred Red Rock, Iⁿ ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe, will soon be returned to its rightful owners and location, thanks to a $5 million grant to support the project.

The prayer rock has been at Robinson Park in Lawrence for 93 years. The Mellon Foundation, a private foundation that supports arts and humanities projects in communities, announced the grant this week.

With this major grant, Iⁿ ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe will be relocated to Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park, located south and east of Council Grove, Kansas. The land that makes up Allegawaho Park, which the Kaw Nation has owned since 2002, is a portion of the final reservation lands of the Kaw Nation in Kansas before their relocation to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1873.  

The grant will also aid in building infrastructure at the rock’s original site, as directed by the Kanza, as well as developing educational visuals there and at Robinson Park.

Leaders of the Kaw Nation, the City of Lawrence, the University of Kansas, the Spencer Museum of Art and the Kanza Heritage Society are working on the project in collaboration.

James Pepper Henry, vice-chairman of the Kaw Nation Tribal Council, has been closely involved in the project and expressed his appreciation and excitement on behalf of the Kaw Nation in a statement:

“The Kaw Nation is grateful and humbled to receive generous support from the Mellon Foundation for the return of our sacred ancestor Iⁿ ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe. 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. 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.”

As a part of Lawrence’s 75th anniversary in 1929, Iⁿ ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe was moved from its natural location at the intersection of the Shunganunga Creek and Kansas River near Tecumseh, Kansas, to Robinson Park, which was named after Kansas’ first governor, Charles Robinson. It was then made to be a monument that honored the majority white “pioneers” who settled in the area.

The 28-ton quartzite boulder holds deep historical, cultural and spiritual meaning to the Kaw People.

In December of 2020, the Kaw Nation submitted a formal request to the Lawrence City Commission for the return of the rock. In turn, the City of Lawrence in March of 2021 apologized and issued Joint City Resolution No. 7358, which included a commitment to its “unconditional return” to the Kaw People. 

Mayor Courtney Shipley said prior to the grant announcement that all the logistics of moving the rock from Robinson Park are set after crews did an assessment last April.

“There is a plan. They know how many trucks they’ll need, they know how many cranes they’ll need, they know how many lanes of traffic they will have to close and how long it’ll take,” Shipley said.

The project is estimated to be completed by spring of 2023, the Wichita Eagle reported.

Relocating the rock is ultimately a step toward mending the harm done and creating better relationships with Indigenous communities as the Kaw Nation is one of many nations who originally inhabited Kansas.

More information about the history of the Iⁿ ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe/Sacred Red Rock Project can be found on its previous website, and all updates moving forward can be found on its new website.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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