‘Somebody needs to be telling this story’: Performance will share history and culture of Kanza people

photo by: Contributed/Kansas State Historical Society

Pauline Eads Sharp, left, portrays her grandmother, Lucy Tayiah Eads, right, the first woman chief of the Kaw Nation, as part of her historical performance on the history and culture of the Kanza (Kaw) people.

The year is 1955, and Lucy Tayiah Eads and her husband are returning to Oklahoma after 20 years of living in Lawrence.

The scene is the opening of Pauline Eads Sharp’s historical performance on the history and culture of the Kanza (Kaw) people, which she tells in first person from the perspective of Eads, her late grandmother and the first woman chief of the Kaw Nation.

“Her and her husband are packing up to go to Oklahoma, back to her Kaw People,” Sharp said. “And she runs across an old hat box full of memorabilia and she starts taking it out of the hat box and reminiscing and telling her story.”

Sharp, a Kaw Nation citizen and board member of the Kanza Heritage Society, has been doing the historical performance since about 2015, and is preparing to give her first public performance in Lawrence this weekend. Though the performance is from Eads’ perspective, it shares more broadly about the history and culture of the Kanza people.

By the mid-18th century, the Kanza, or “Wind People” were the predominant tribe in what would become the state of Kansas, according to the Kaw Nation website. The territory of the Kaw Nation extended over most of present-day northern and eastern Kansas, with hunting grounds extending far to the west. After settlers expanded westward, the tribe was forcibly removed to Indian Territory, what would later become present-day Oklahoma, in 1872.

Eads was born in 1888 in a tipi on the banks of Little Beaver Creek in Indian Territory, according to Sharp’s performance brochure. She was the adopted daughter of Chief Wah-Shun-Gah, who served as principal chief of the Kanza after removal to Indian Territory. Eads attended Haskell Indian School from 1901 to 1908. She was later elected chief of the Kaw tribe in 1922 and served in that role until 1934.

Sharp said the idea for the performance goes back to a classroom at Wichita State University, where after retiring she enrolled in a class on Native American spirituality. She said the class was taught by an Osage elder, who asked the class, which included several Indigenous students, whether they knew where the state of Kansas got its name. When no one knew, Sharp said she hoped to change that.

“I thought somebody needs to be telling this story,” Sharp said, which led her to attend a workshop on first-person historical performance.

This weekend’s performance also relates to the ongoing process to return a sacred prayer rock that was stolen from the homelands of the Kaw Nation in 1929. That effort began in 2020, and earlier this year the project received a $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to relocate In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe, a 28-ton red quartzite boulder, to the Kaw Nation’s Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park, near Council Grove.

Eads was chief of the tribe when a group of Lawrence officials and community members arranged to take In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe from its longtime resting place to make it into the monument to the city’s settlers that now resides in Robinson Park across from City Hall. The boulder was previously located along the Shunganunga Creek near Topeka, and was part of the tribe’s song-prayer ceremonies before the tribe was relocated to Indian Territory. Sharp, who is part of the project’s community engagement team, said team members will provide information about the ongoing process to return In ‘zhúje ‘waxóbe after her performance.

The performance will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday at Unity of Lawrence, 900 Madeline Lane. The performance is free and open to the public.


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