Photos: Plaque removed from Sacred Red Rock

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In preparation for the return of the Sacred Red Rock to the Kaw Nation, people involved in the project have removed a plaque dedicating the boulder to white settlers.

A large bronze plaque — estimated to weigh about 300 pounds — came off Monday morning. It will eventually reside in the Watkins Museum of History.

James Pepper Henry, vice-chairman of the Kaw Nation, told attendees at an April event that plans for the plaque were not yet finalized, but the Kaw Nation would like to find a home for it in Lawrence, whether that be in a museum or with a historical organization. The project team had been working on a strategy to remove the plaque while maintaining the integrity of the rock.

Natalie Vondrak, a spokesperson for the Watkins, said the museum will receive the small and large plaques that were mounted on Iⁿ ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe on Aug. 29. She said the museum’s plan is to build a permanent exhibit around the plaques that explores local Indigenous heritage in Douglas County and the story of the Sacred Red Rock.

“The exhibit is still in its development phase, but we have been working with the Kaw Nation over the course of a few weeks to help interpret the history of In‘ zhúje‘ waxóbe,” Vondrak said via email Monday. “We look forward to this exhibit’s opening and the opportunity to celebrate local Indigenous culture at the Watkins Museum.”

Both plaques are visible in this photo from April 2021:

August Rudisell/The Lawrence Times Crews assess In´zhúje´waxóbe, the prayer rock of the Kaw Nation, on April 29, 2021.

In the meantime, the plaques will be “stored in a vault at the KU Endowment Association,” according to a recent news release from the City of Lawrence. “The next step will be to begin disassembling the base, removing the smaller rocks, and placing them in bags so they move with Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe to Council Grove. By mid-August crews will work to carefully lay Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe on its side to prepare for its journey to Council Grove on August 30.”

The Sacred Red Rock has sat at Lawrence’s Robinson Park for about 93 years. It holds deep historical, cultural and spiritual meaning to the Kaw People. In December 2020, the Kaw Nation submitted a formal request to the Lawrence City Commission for the return of the boulder. City leaders in March 2021 formally apologized and committed to the boulder’s unconditional return to the Kaw Nation.

The Mellon Foundation, which supports arts and humanities projects in communities, announced in April 2022 a $5 million grant to make the project possible. The grant will pay for the 28-ton red Siouxan quartzite boulder to be moved to land owned by the Kaw Nation about 4 miles from Council Grove, as well as exhibits and projects telling the boulder’s story.

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times Karl Ramberg and Terry Frankenfeld clean off the Sacred Red Rock after the plaque was removed.
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times Sage, tobacco and sweetgrass were offered as a prayer for the sacred rock’s safe journey.
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
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