Lawrence City Commission approves resolution committing to unconditional return of sacred prayer rock to Kaw Nation

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Shunganunga boulder, pictured Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, is a 23-ton red quartzite rock that sits in Robinson Park in downtown Lawrence across from City Hall. In 1929, a group of Lawrence officials arranged to take the boulder from the Shunganunga Creek near Tecumseh, where the creek joins with the Kansas River — a site that was sacred to the Kanza tribe.

In an effort to right one of the wrongs of Lawrence’s past, city leaders have officially committed to returning a sacred prayer rock to the Kaw Nation and to issue a formal apology for its removal from the tribe’s homeland decades ago.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to adopt a joint resolution with Douglas County to offer a formal apology to the people of the Kaw Nation for appropriating and defacing the sacred rock, In ́zhúje ́waxóbe, and agreeing to its return to the Kaw Nation “without conditions.”

Commissioners expressed strong support for In ́zhúje ́waxóbe’s return to the tribe, and some noted that many in the community have also expressed support, with some elementary school children raising money to help pay for the rock’s relocation.

“I think this is one more step that we are taking to return to those what belongs to them, as well as address some of the other social issues that have haunted Lawrence for many years,” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said.

As it has been for more than 90 years, the 23-ton red quartzite boulder is currently in Robinson Park across from City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. In 1929, a group of Lawrence officials and community members arranged to take the boulder from its longtime resting place along the Shunganunga Creek, according to newspaper archives reviewed by the Journal-World. The boulder was then fitted with a plaque and made into a monument honoring white settlers who founded the city and placed in the park, which is owned by the county.

The resolution approved Tuesday is in response to a formal request for the rock’s return that the Kaw Nation issued at the end of November. A letter from Kaw Nation Chairwoman Lynn Williams informed the commission that at the Kaw Nation General Council meeting in October, Kaw citizens overwhelmingly voted in favor of bringing In ́zhúje ́waxóbe back to the tribe, as the Journal-World previously reported. Williams says in the letter that the tribe’s stewardship of the rock and its significance as a spiritual item of prayer was well documented, and that the tribe’s intent was to reclaim that stewardship and restore the rock’s sacred significance.

Kaw Nation Vice Chairman James Pepper Henry told the commission that the nation was grateful for the commission’s confirmation of the tribe’s claim and agreement for the rock’s unconditional return. He said the tribe appreciated the outpouring of support from the community and was looking forward to continuing to work with the city on the prayer rock’s return to the tribe.

“We’ll convene very soon and we’ll come up with a plan and let everybody know what our plans will be in the future for In ́zhúje ́waxóbe,” Pepper Henry said.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler, who has been working with the Kaw Nation on the request, said there were potentially some grants available to help to pay for the relocation of In ́zhúje ́waxóbe, and that the city would look at all options. Wheeler said that with the adoption of the resolution, the city and the tribe would turn their attention to developing plans and identifying what has to happen next to bring the move to fruition.

The Douglas County Commission is scheduled to adopt the resolution as part of its consent agenda on Wednesday.

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