After nearly a century, Lawrence is returning a sacred boulder to the Kaw Nation

On Wednesday a boulder sacred to the Kaw Nation will return to the tribe, 94 years after the city of Lawrence moved it. The city had taken the boulder from its original location at the confluence of Shunganunga Creek and the Kansas River to a park at the north end of Massachusetts Street and later defaced it with a plaque honoring the city’s predominantly white founders.

A crew will move the boulder, named Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe or Sacred Red Rock, from Lawrence to Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park near Council Grove, Kansas, land owned by the Kaw Nation.

“We have been separated from our grandfather for more than 150 years and we look forward to being reacquainted,” Jim Pepper Henry, vice-chairman of the Kaw Nation, said at a celebration of the rock’s return Tuesday.

The celebration is the one public event marking the rock’s relocation. The removal of Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe from Lawrence and its replacement in Council Grove are closed to the public because of their sacred nature.

Henry said the Kaw people were first separated from the boulder, which is a prayer rock significant to the spiritual life of the tribe, in 1863 when white settlers forcibly removed the nation from their land that at one point included two-fifths of the state of Kansas. That separation, he said, was just one among many atrocities the white settlers inflicted on the tribe, annihilating much of their population, their culture and their language.

“Just like Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe the Kanza people bear the scars of colonialist expansion, these scars will always be reminders of our plight and our struggle to remain Kanza,” he said. “And just like Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe our people are strong and resilient and we continue to persevere through adversity.”

“We can’t change the injustices of the past but we can acknowledge that they occurred and we can strive for reconciliation.”

The Lawrence City Commission voted in 2021 to return the Sacred Red Rock to the Kaw people. Last year, the Mellon Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to the University of Kansas to help fund the process of excavating and moving the monument.

In celebrating the successful return, the City of Lawrence issued a formal apology to the Kaw Nation, Tuesday, for the actions of city leaders in 1929.

“The city and Douglas County offer a sincere apology to all the people of the Kaw Nation for actions community leaders in 1929 appropriating Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe to honor white settlers to on the 75th anniversary of Lawrence,” Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larsen read from the apology.

Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe’s return to the Kaw Nation comes as Kansas tribes are seeking the return of Native American remains and funerary objects held by Kansas institutions, including KU and the Kansas Historical Society. Though a 1990 federal law requires organizations to return the artifacts, Kansas institutions have yet to return more than 580 Native American ancestors to their tribes.

Speaking to reporters at the celebration, Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said she believed work was underway to ensure the artifacts are returned.

“I think, right now, first thing we need to do is make sure those artifacts get back to their rightful owners,” Kelly said when asked whether the state owes the tribe reparations.

The Star’s Katie Moore contributed to this report.