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Meet The KCK Couple Who Helps Look After A Sacred Shawnee Indian Grave

Suzanne Hogan

Ernesto and Lupe Arvizu didn't know they were living next door to a sacred burial ground when they first moved to the Argentine neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan., 20 years ago.

White Feather Spring is a national historic site that memorializes the lesser known Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa, who spent the last years of his life in KCK.

Tucked behind backyards at the end of the street, is a ravine that leads down to the spring. The property is privately owned by the Shawnee Tribe and Eastern Shawnee Tribe.

Though the memorial plaque near the ravine says the Prophet Tenskwatawa "died a broken and forgotten man," the Arvizu family has been helping to watch over the land and keep his memory alive.

Lupe and Ernesto are not Shawnee, they're from Mexico, where they both have strong indigenous roots.

The Arvisus found out about the property's significance after their children, who liked to play in the ravine, found some snakes. Lupe, concerned, decided to mow the area. That's when a tribal member that had been watching over the site found out and told her about the significance of the site. Over time, she and Ernesto took over maintenance and started to feel a deep spiritual connection with the land.

"We've been having a lot of rough times. And we was to the point where we could lose the house, and some hocus-pocus reason, the solution appears and we take care of everything," Ernesto says, referencing the connection his family has to the site. 

He says it feels as if they're supposed to be here. Ernesto offers tobacco to the four corners of the earth each time he goes down to the spring. And Lupe made a walking stick with the Prophet's name on it. 

Credit Suzanne Hogan / KCUR
Ernesto Arvizu sits down at his kitchen table, discussing the life of the Shawnee Prophet and his spiritual philosophies.

"I have a lot of faith," she says. "First in God, and then in my Indian. I say he's mine because I live here now, but he belongs to everyone."

Every so often tribal visitors stop by to pay respects to the Prophet, Tenskwatawa, which means "open door."

The Arvizus try to maintain an open door policy to them, while at the same time serving as a watchful eye against unwanted intruders and illegal dumpers.

"We need to make people understand that this is a part of our history. And yes, I say our history," says Ernesto.

Lupe and Ernesto Arvizu now go to powwows in the area, and they include Tenskwatawa and other American Indian leaders, along with family who have passed away, in their Day of the Dead altar every year. They continue to advocate for people to respect the sacred land, watching over it, and encouraging people not to forget the deep history beneath their feet.

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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