Lawrence working to return sacred prayer rock to Kaw Nation

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — The city of Lawrence is taking its first steps to return a sacred prayer rock to the Kaw Nation. Currently it is used as a monument to the city’s founders.

So far there has been no real controversy over the decision. The main question average citizens on the street ask is how are they going to move it?

Robinson Park is the current home for what is commonly known as the Big Red Rock. Lawrence officials estimate it weighs somewhere between 22 and 26 tons.

A large metal plaque is also fasten to its side. The first lines talk about pioneers to Kansas and how they “came into a wilderness, suffered hardships and faced dangers and death to found this state in righteousness.”

Most passersby don’t pay attention to the words or the rock, according to people in the area.

During this week’s city commission meeting, Lawrence officials discussed a letter claiming ownership of the rock using it’s official name.

Lynn William, chairwoman of the Kaw Nation, wrote, “It is sacred to the Kaw people and considered an item of cultural patrimony. Our stewardship of this rock and its significance as a spiritual item of prayer for our people is well documented by white anthropologists and witnesses.”

Lawrence City Attorney Toni Wheeler said her staff had done research on the topic since the letter was received in late 2020.

“Our office has done some research and we have found no legal barriers to the city’s ability to return the rock to the KAW nation,” Wheeler said.

“The Kaw people lived in Kansas and Lawrence is their ancentral land before they were removed by the US government to Oklahoma,” Wheeler said.

According to Williams’ letter representing the Kaw Nation, white settlers appropriated the Big Red Rock, while both understanding and ignoring its ceremonial significance.

Some people in Lawrence said they would have no problem with the rock being returned.

“I’m not going to miss it. I don’t particularly consider it sacred to myself or something that builds the spirit of Lawrence,” one man said.

“I think they should get it back because it’s like theirs and it’s not right to keep it,” another woman said.

The Lawrence City Commission is now reaching out to Douglas County because historical records show that Robinson Park could be owned by the county. After that, discussion might start on when and how to move the rock.

“In addition to the theft of the rock, we defaced it by putting a plaque on it. And we do want to save the plaque obviously for its own historical reasons and I’m glad that ‘Between the Rock and a Hard Place’ is there to engage the public and figure out what to do,” Lawrence Vice Mayor Courtney Shipley said.

The community group, calling itself Between a Rock and a Hard Place, is helping coordinate efforts alongside the Kaw Nation. It’s also possible that the city of Lawrence will partner with the Kaw Nation while writing grants for the project.

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