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Tribe that gave Kansas its name has reclaimed a big piece of its sacred heritage


The Native American tribe that gave Kansas its name has reclaimed a 28-ton piece of its sacred heritage, a boulder roughly the size of a compact car. KCUR's Frank Morris reports on what it means to the Kaw tribal community.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: The Kaw - or Kanza - people once ranged across most of present-day Kansas. A hundred and fifty years ago, the federal government banished the last of them to what's now Oklahoma. The tribe almost died off entirely.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

MORRIS: Now the Kaw tribe is celebrating a new toehold in Kansas.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're going to get started momentarily. If you are sitting in the sun, I want you to know that you are...

MORRIS: About 300 people crowd under and around a big white canopy in the sweeping green Flint Hills outside Council Grove, Kan. They're here to celebrate a rock unlike anything else around - the huge, red, quartzite boulder standing bolt upright on the green prairie.

JIM PEPPER HENRY: Today, we welcome home our grandfather, Inzhujewaxobe, to our Kaw Nation lands and the last reservation that we had in Kansas.

MORRIS: Tribal vice chair Jim Pepper Henry says the sacred red rock spent almost a century propped up in a city park 80 miles from here as a monument to white settlers. A decadeslong effort, involving lots of people and a $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, transferred Inzhujewaxobe to the tribe's 160-acre heritage park. Brittany Dias drove up from Tulsa, Okla., to see it.

BRITTANY DIAS: I'm Kaw. And so this is part of our culture and our heritage, and this is a really monumental moment for us to have this sacred rock return and brought here to where it can rest finally and be back with its people.

MORRIS: Dias says this is part of a much broader movement.

DIAS: We can look at it as a sense of closure, as we have closed out this understanding and idea of the colonial mentality of where we just - we take. And now we're opening a new chapter where we are rematriating.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

MORRIS: The next chapter could be repopulating. The people who gave their name to Kansas now have just a tiny presence in the state. Jim Pepper Henry hopes the rock and the cultural heritage park they're developing around it will help reestablish the Kaw tribe in its native homeland.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Council Grove, Kan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Frank Morris