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A local's guide to Native American cultural sites around Kansas City

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Big Stock
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The culture, history and contributions of the Osage, Kaw, Otoe-Missouria, Shawnee, Wyandot and other Native American tribes can be found across the Kansas City region.

This story was first published in KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

The Kansas City region is home to a diverse number of Native American nations. Around northern Kansas City, we can find traces of the Hopewell civilization from the Middle Woodland era (100 B.C. to 700 A.D.) and the Mississippi people (760 to 1290 A.D.).

The 90-mile radius of KCUR’s broadcast signal extends across the ancestral lands of the Osage, Kaw (Kansa) and Otoe-Missouria. During the 1830s, the Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo) were forcefully relocated to the region, each community with its own history and traditions. A few decades later, many of these nations were again forced to move.

Today Native Americans only make up about 0.5% of the population in Kansas City and the surrounding communities. Still, this influence is found in our streets and place names, historic sites and museum galleries, along with the cultural contributions of those preserving, expanding and celebrating that heritage.

At the same time, recent acts of vandalism in North Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas, demonstrate the enduring struggle to respect Native American land and culture.

Many states and cities celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on the second Monday of October, acknowledging and honoring the original stewards of lands worldwide. Last year was the first time that Kansas City officially acknowledged the day, with a proclamation from Mayor Quinton Lucas. This year, the day falls on October 11.

And in November, it’s National Native American Heritage Month.

To help us learn more about our area, we’ve identified some of the significant Native American cultural and historic sites in the Kansas City region, with guidance from staff at the Kansas City Indian Center.

Missouri

OtoeMissouriaDelegation1881_public domain.jpg
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen Gift, 2005
A photograph taken by John K. Hillers in 1881 of the Otoe-Missouria Delegation. For centuries the Otoe had lived near the mouth of the Platte River in Nebraska, but by 1881 the Otoe-Missouria were forced to sell their land. According to tribal history, they walked with their possessions across the state of Kansas to their new home in Oklahoma.

Despite adopting the name of the people who lived here, there are no longer any recognized tribal lands in Missouri due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Nations from the East and North were moved first to what was then called Indian Territory (present-day Kansas and Nebraska), then into Oklahoma.

Learn more about the influence of the Otoe-Missouria on Missouri's name with the KCUR podcast A People’s History of Kansas City. You can also read about Native Americans who have lived in Missouri in this series from Missouri Life magazine, and explore resources from the State Historical Society of Missouri.

However, there are still remnants of that history, such as Wyandotte Street that runs somewhat brokenly from the River Market to Westport Road, connecting points of contact between Native Americans and Europeans who traded and intermarried. Locations of trading posts are acknowledged with historic markers in Case Park, the West Bottoms, Chouteau Station in Shawnee, Kansas; with monuments such as the François Chouteau and Native American Heritage Fountain; and even in surviving buildings, such as the one at 504 Westport Road.

The Kansas City Indian Center is also located in the Westport area. First formed as a social club to retain cultural practices, it was incorporated in 1971 as the area’s “only multi-purpose social service agency for American Indians.”

Frank Vaydik Park, in Platte County, is the site of the former Line Creek archeological dig, which uncovered artifacts from the Kansas City Hopewell during the mid-20th century. For decades there was a museum and dig site. Though the museum is no longer there and the artifacts are in storage, it is now home to Line Creek’s Thidaware Native American Garden, which is grown using ancient agricultural practices.

Wyandotte County

Argentine Mural
Keith Stokes | Kansastravels.org
The Anthology of Argentine Mural in Kansas City, Kansas, tells the history of the Argentine community of our region.

Since Missouri and many other states forcibly removed their Native American populations, many nations ended up in what became Kansas, then known as Indian Territory. The Delaware (Lenape) first established a reservation in 1829, then sold land to the Wyandot in 1843, for what is now Kansas City in Wyandotte County, Kansas.

Shortly after the Wyandot arrived in the area, an estimated 60 people became sick and died. The Wyandotte National Burying Ground (the name Huron Indian Cemetery is not considered correct) is at 5th and Minnesota Ave., near the 7th Street Casino, owned by the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma.

Also in Kansas City is Kaw Point, where the Kansas (Kaw) River and Missouri River converge. The spot also has come to symbolize the convergence of Native Americans and European Americans. The riverside park includes a memorial to Native American nations.

Though Quindaro was known as a community of African Americans, the name came from the Wyandot, too, meaning “bundle of sticks,” symbolizing strength in unity.

In the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, there's the former site of Tenskwatawa’s “Prophetstown.” He was known as The Shawnee Prophet, and his final resting place is White Feather Spring, now on private property, where there's a marker located at the end of a quiet street.

Johnson County

The brick exterior of the North building of the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway, Kansas.
Carlos Moreno
The Shawnee Indian Mission Historic Site was first established in 1839 as a boarding training school for Native American children.

While many histories have been forgotten, there are still those trying to preserve them and right past wrongs. The Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site (in what is now Fairway, Kansas) was first established in 1839 as a manual training school for Native American children.

Recently, the Shawnee Mission Post reported that the city will be working with the Shawnee Tribe to readdress the history of the boarding school, to remember and honor the children who lived there.

When the Shawnee established their reservations in 1826, there were different viewpoints in regard to dealing with the white government and neighbors. Some, including Chief Charles Bluejacket (who was also a Methodist minister), chose assimilation, while others, such as Chief Black Bob, worked to maintain separate traditions within their community. In either case, they were eventually forced to leave Kansas.

Throughout Shawnee, Kansas, we find references to Bluejacket, including a street, a fountain and an apartment complex. There is also the Shawnee Indian Cemetery (the last burial there was in 1870). In Olathe (which means “beautiful” in Shawnee), references to Black Bob include a park, street and elementary school.

Beyond Kansas City

KU FNSA Powwow
Laura Kingston
Each year, KU's First Nation Student Association hosts a Powwow and Indigenous Cultures Festival.

Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, also started as a boarding school. Learn more about the university and the people of the area at the Cultural Center and Museum. You can also take a self-guided walking tour of the campus.

Lawrence was the first city in Kansas to declare Indigenous People’s Day. The University of Kansas’s Lied Center will host the 33rd KU FNSA Powwow and Indigenous Cultures Festival in April 2022. (You can watch the 2021 virtual event on Facebook.)

There are still a few reservations in Kansas. Learn about the last buffalo hunt by the Prairie Band of Potawatomi or the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe in Horton. Near the Nebraska border, the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri have a museum in Reserve, Kansas, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska’s seat of governance is in White Cloud.

In Council Grove, you'll find the Kaw Mission and Last Chance Store, run by the Kansas Historical Society (though currently closed for reinterpretation).

Just about 30 minutes from downtown Kansas City is Fort Osage in Sibley, Missouri, a living history museum that recounts the days in the early 1800s when it was a military and trading post. The fort was established by William Clark in 1808 and operated until 1827. For a few years during its operation, the Little Osage tribe lived in the area as well.

Reconstruction began in 1941 and in 1961 the fort was recognized as a National Historic Site, in part due to its relation to Hopewell and Osage archaeological sites and the Santa Fe Trail, which began as a trading circuit originally used by Native Americans.

Many of the nations that were moved to this area were then forcibly removed again to Oklahoma. The First Americans Museum (FAM) recently opened in Oklahoma City, telling the stories of the 39 tribal nations now in Oklahoma.

Native American art and culture

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Carlos Moreno

Many local museums include Native American art and artifacts in their collections, both ancient and modern, including the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the St. Joseph Museum and the Kansas City Museum.

But Native Americans don’t exist only in the past. Traditions continue, and many individuals express those traditions through contemporary frameworks. On the KCUR podcast Real Humans, host Gina Kaufmann shares the story of Alexandra Holder (Lakota), a runner with the Haskell Indian Nations University who grew up in Lawrence, Kansas.

Native Spirit Radio features music from many different people from all over the Americas, every Sunday at 5 p.m. It’s a long-running show on KKFI 90.1 FM, hosted by Rhonda LeValdo, a faculty member at Haskell Indian Nations University.

The UMKC Gallery of Art is currently hosting an exhibition by Gregg Deal. “Yadooa Hookwu (I Will Speak Now)” explores “Indigenous identity through multiple forms of expression.” Deal (Paiute Tribe of Pyramid Lake) is a multi-disciplinary artist who addresses race relations, American history and Indian stereotypes in his work.

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Corrected: October 8, 2021 at 11:24 AM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Otoe-Missouria were part of the Oceti Sakowin or Sioux people. They spoke a Siouan dialect, but were not the same nation.
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