Scholars Illuminate History of Kanza Indians and Nation's First Land Grant University
Much of what is now Kansas was once home to an Indian nation that no longer exists in the state. The Kanza Indians were forced out by a succession of one-sided treaties and federal laws. One of those laws freed up land for the establishment of Kansas State University and other land-grant schools. But today, as KPR's Jim McLean reports, K-State is spearheading an effort to make more Kansans aware of that history.
Efforts Underway to Educate Kansans About the State's Namesake - the Kanza (Kaw) Natio
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Researchers at Kansas State University are leading an effort to educate Kansans about the Indian nation whose land was taken to establish both the state and the university.
The Morrill Act, passed by Congress in 1862, allocated large swaths of land for the establishment of colleges to teach agriculture, military tactics, and mechanical arts to the working class. K-State, established in 1863, was the nation’s first land-grant school. It’s campus sits on part of more than 87,000 acres of former Kanza or Kaw land.
Lisa Tatonetti, and English professor at K-State who specializes in Native American literature, said few of her students know about the connection between the Kanza and their school.
“I think it might be 1 percent,” Tatonetti said. “For a class I have now, I had maybe two students who knew a little bit.” K-State’s Chapman Center for Rural Studies launched the Kansas Land Treaties Project in 2020 to change that, Tatonetti said.
“My students are hungry for this history,” she said. “They feel like something has been taken from them because they don’t have this knowledge.”
Tai Edwards, a history professor at Johnson County Community College, works with Tatonetti on the treaties project. She says today’s students need to understand that they’re still benefiting from policies enacted more than a century ago.
“Especially if the thing that I’m benefiting from was not something that was positively experienced by at least some of the people involved, which would certainly be the case for the Kanza,” Edwards said.
Edwards rejects criticism that teaching such history does little more than make people feel guilty about things they cannot change. She said the recent move by the city of Lawrence to “rematriate” a sacred Kanza prayer rock appropriated by white settlers is an example of how confronting past injustices can lead to reconciliation.
“When people become aware that something unjust has happened, they want to take action if they’re able to address it because the harm is not over,” Edwards said.
The massive 28-ton red quartzite bolder was recently moved from Lawrence to the site of the Kaw Nation’s last village in Kansas near Council Grove.
Brittany Dias, a Kaw Nation member who traveled to Lawrence for the ceremony from her home in Tulsa, said the rematriation of the rock brought “healing” medicine to her people’s relationship with the descendants of the settlers who forced them from their land.
At the turn of the 19th Century, the Kanza called nearly all of what is now Kansas as well as parts of Missouri and Nebraska (approximately 22 million acres) home. But the arrival of white settlers and a series of one-sided treaties forced the Kanza onto smaller and smaller parcels of land culminating in 1873 with their removal to Oklahoma, then known simply as Indian territory. Tatonetti and Edwards collaborated on an article in the summer edition of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, published by the Kansas Historical Foundation and the Department of History at K-State.
The article details the history of the Kanza’s exodus from the state that bears their name. It includes annotations from land-cession treaties that imposed terms more favorable to settlers backed by the U.S. government than the Kanza.
With settlers under the protection of the U.S. government already occupying their land, Edwards says the Kanza had little choice but to accept terms more favorable to the government.
“I don’t call that negotiation between relative equals, I call that coercion,” she said.