In a historic moment encompassed in cultural significance and reconciliation, the Kaw Nation recently fulfilled a tremendous milestone—the reclamation of Iⁿ‘zhúje ‘Waxóbe, a sacred red Siouxan quartzite boulder that had, until August 30th, 2023, resided in Robinson Park in Lawrence, Kansas. This momentous undertaking, funded through the University of Kansas’s Monuments Initiative, by way of the Mellon Foundation, is a 30-month, $5,000,000 project illustrating the enduring spirit of the Kaw people.
The story of Iⁿ‘zhúje ‘Waxóbe begins millions of years ago when it was deposited by a glacier along the banks of the Kaw River at the mouth of Shunganunga Creek. This sacred boulder served as a spiritual anchor for the Kaw Nation, a people with deep connections to the land and its resources. It was not merely a geological formation but a vessel of history, culture, and spirituality for the Kaw people.
However, in 1873, the Kaw Nation endured the devastating consequences of forced removal from their ancestral lands, marking a dark and unjust chapter in their history. In 1929, Iⁿ‘zhúje ‘Waxóbe was relocated to Robinson Park near Lawrence’s City Hall, where, regrettably, a plaque was added to the massive rock to honor the town’s European founders. This act unintentionally underscored the complex and challenging history of the region, marred by the unjust appropriation of Indigenous heritage. Despite this painful displacement, the Kaw’s sacred rock persevered, transcending time and distance.
For the Kaw people, this 10-foot-tall red rock was not just an inert object; it was a living testament to their beliefs and traditions. It served as a focal point for religious ceremonies, and it held the sacred power to provide stones for crafting pipes. It was, above all, an ancient prayer rock—a spiritual touchstone that connected the Kaw to their ancestors, their songs, and their identity.
The return of Iⁿ‘zhúje ‘Waxóbe to the Kaw Nation was a momentous occasion, filled with emotions that overflowed like the river that once cradled the sacred boulder. On August 29th, community members gathered under a tent, their hearts brimming with anticipation and hope. The celebration included gifts, an Honor Song, and dances—a fitting tribute to a relic that had waited almost a century to return to its rightful place.
James Pepper Henry, tribal vice chair of the Kaw Nation, remarked on the significance of this event, stating that the return of the Sacred Red Rock was a historic moment not only for the Kaw People but also for the citizens of Kansas. It marked a pivotal step in the ongoing reconciliation efforts between the Kaw Nation and their original Kansas lands. With the assistance of a massive crane and a formidable flatbed truck, the Sacred Red Rock embarked on its journey to Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park in Council Grove, Kansas, situated on lands owned by the Kaw Nation. Kaw Nation leaders and project coordinators, including James Pepper Henry, Kim Jenkins (Tribal Council Chair), and Ken Bellmard (Director of Government Relations), were present to oversee this monumental departure
The City of Lawrence played a crucial role in this endeavor, expressing its support for the Kaw Nation’s efforts and offering a heartfelt apology to the Kaw Nation people for having taken their sacred prayer item.
As Iⁿ‘zhúje ‘Waxóbe returns to the embrace of the Kaw Nation, it carries with it not only the weight of history but also the hope for unity, understanding, and healing. This extraordinary journey reminds us that cultural heritage is not confined to museums or monuments; it lives in the hearts and spirits of a resilient people determined to preserve their identity and traditions for generations to come.
Kimberly Jenkins and Watkins Museum Executive Director Steve Nowak sign the loan agreement for the bronze plaque. Photo Credit- Dave Lowenstein
Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larsen presents Kaw Nation Chairwoman Kimberly Jenkins with a gift. Photo Credit: Molly Adams
Attendees of formal ceremony. Photo Credit: Dave Lowenstein