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Kanza People Sacred Stone is Finally Handed Back to the Tribe


You can’t help but notice the massive red boulder in downtown Kansas City’s park. However, this does not belong there. 

At last, the Kaw community has been given back a stone they consider a sacred altar.

The more than 20 tons of quartzite boulder is now heading for tribal land with the optimism that it can bolster the strained relationship between the Kaw, or Kanza, people and the state that snatched their land and sacred rock. 

“There’s a little bit of a melancholy feeling that I have when I see it,” stated the vice-chairman of the Kaw Nation, James Pepper Henry. “It’s a reminder to us as Kaw people of what has been taken from us.” 

The story of the stone is filled as a portrait of the brutal history of what is currently seen as Kansas. It represents what the local tribes view as invasion and extermination somehow.

When the massive force of a glacier hit billion-and-half-year-old quartzite bedrock in the northern plains, the rock fractured, it shifted, but it did not collapse. Instead, the glacier razed south of Kansas around 700,000 years previously. 

“Less resistant rocks were just ground to dust,” stated an associate professor of geology at the University of Kansas. “It’s a survivor. It’s hard and resilient, and here it is.” 

Currently, it stands in a small park surrounded on three sides by winding roads and Kansas, or Kaw, River for a fourth.

This stone is sacred to the Kaw people, like Pepper Henry. His uncle first showed him the stone the Kanza called Íⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe about thirty years ago, and he remembers his unforgettable look.

“I got goosebumps because, just the scale of it. But I knew how important it was to our people,” he stated. “I could feel the presence of it. And this rock, it had a long journey from where it came from. It’s not from these parts.” 

Pepper Henry lives in Oklahoma. His ancestors Kaw roamed a part of the country now known as Kansas, chasing buffalo for centuries. But government forces pressured them to retain land, small and large, evicting the tribe south of Oklahoma in the 1870s.

“Most people in Kansas don’t know that the state is named after a group of people native American tribe, the Kanza,” stated Pepper Henry. “We’ve been virtually erased from Kansas, and we’re invisible to most people here.” 

Two or three years earlier, a tribal leader and a few activists in Lawrence began to extend efforts to restore the stone to the Kaw tribe. KU Director of the Center for Indigenous Research and Science, Jay Johnson, said Lawrence boosters who pulled a stone in the city knew they were holding something critical for the Kanza community.

“They took it, and they reappropriated it,” he stated. “And now the descendants and communities leaders have said, ‘You know what? We should give this back, and we should apologize.'” 

Last year, the city returned it to the people of Kanza and officially apologized for its capture. However, Íⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe weighs about 23 tons or perhaps even 30 tons. This way, moving it won’t be easy.

Johnson pointed out that the timing is just right. The public outcry over the importance of ancient images and landmarks brought about by the idea of ​​racism after the murder of George Floyd increased efforts to restore the stone.

Photo: NPR

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