In a downtown Kansas park, a massive red boulder isn’t where it belongs.
Now, the Kaw tribe is finally reclaiming the rock that, for decades, its community considered 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 tale of the rock has served as a representation of the harsh history of what’s now recognized as Kansas. It somehow stands for what native tribes view as invasion and genocide.
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 to what’s now 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’s bolt upright in a small park surrounded on three sides by buzzing streets and the Kansas, or Kaw, River on the fourth.
This stone is sacred to the Kaw community, such as Pepper Henry. According to him, his uncle first showed him the stone the tribe calls Íⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe nearly three decades past, and he clearly remembers his first look at it.
“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 resides in Oklahoma. His Kaw forefathers wandered much of the land now known as Kansas, hunting down buffalo for centuries. However, federal forces coerced them into tinier and tinier reservations, ultimately displacing the tribe south to 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.”
A couple of years previously, a tribal figurehead and several activists in Lawrence started pressing to give the rock back to the Kaw Nation. KU director of Center for Indigenous Research and Science, Jay Johnson, said the Lawrence boosters who tugged the rock into town were aware that they were seizing something important to the Kanza people.
“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 handed it back alongside a formal apology for seizing it in the first place. However, Íⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe is quite heavy, weighing around 23 tons or even around 30. So, moving it won’t be easy.
However, Johnson stated that the timing is only accurate. A national outcry for the significance of ancient symbols and monuments brought by the racial consideration following George Floyd’s murder intensifies the attempt to return the rock.
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