This story was first published in KCUR’s Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.
The Kansas City area is home to a large number of Native American nations. Around northern Kansas City, traces of the Hopewell civilization of the Middle Woodland Era (100 BC to 700 AD) and the Mississippi people (760 to 1290 AD) can be found.
KCUR’s 90-mile broadcast signal radius extends across the ancestral lands Osage, Kaw (Kansa) and Otoe-Missouria (who is part of the Očeti Šakówiŋ or Sioux people). During the 1830s, the Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo) were forcibly relocated to the area, with each community having its own history and traditions. A few decades later, many of these nations were again forced to relocate.
Today, Native Americans make up only about 0.5% of the population of Kansas City and surrounding communities. Yet this influence is reflected in our streets and place names, historic sites and museum galleries, as well as the cultural contributions of those who preserve, expand and celebrate this heritage.
At the same time, recent acts of vandalism in North Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas demonstrate the ongoing struggle for respect for Native American land and culture.
Many states and cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October, recognizing and honoring the original stewards of land around the world. Last year was the first time Kansas City officially recognized 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 historical sites in the Kansas City area, with advice from Ed Smith (Osage) of Kansas City Indian Center.
Despite the adoption of the names of the people who lived here, there is no longer any recognized tribal land in Missouri due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The nations of the East and North were first moved to what was then called Indian Territory (now Kansas and Nebraska) and then to Oklahoma.
Learn more about Otoe-Missouria’s influence on the Missouri name with the KCUR A People’s History of Kansas City podcast. You can also read about the Native Americans who lived in Missouri in this series from Missouri Life magazine and explore the resources of Missouri State Historical Society.
However, there are still vestiges of this history, such as Wyandotte Street which stretches somewhat discontinuously from River Market to Westport Road, connecting the points of contact between Native Americans and Europeans who traded and intermarried with each other. . The locations of trading posts are recognized with historical markers at Case Park, the West Bottoms, Chouteau station in Shawnee, Kansas; with monuments such as François Chouteau and the Native American Heritage Fountain; and even in surviving buildings, like the one at 504 Westport Road.
The Kansas City Indian Center is also located in the Westport area. First established as a social club to conserve cultural practices, it was incorporated in 1971 as “the only comprehensive social service agency for American Indians”.
Frank Vaydik Park, in Platte County, is the site of the ancient Line Creek archaeological dig, which uncovered Kansas City Hopewell artifacts in the mid-20th century. For decades there was a museum and an excavation site. Although the museum no longer exists and the artifacts are in storage, it now houses Line Creek Thidaware Native American Garden, which is cultivated according to ancient agricultural practices.
Since Missouri and many other states forcibly withdrew their Native American populations, many nations found themselves in what became Kansas, then known as Indian Territory. The Delaware (Lenape) first established a reserve in 1829, then sold land to the Wyandots in 1843, for what is now Kansas City in Wyandotte County, Kansas.
Shortly after the Wyandots arrived in the area, around 60 people fell ill and died. The Wyandotte National Cemetery (the name Huron Indian Cemetery is not considered correct) is located at 5th and Minnesota Ave., near 7th Street Casino, owned by the Wyandotte tribe of Oklahoma.
Also in Kansas City is Kaw Point, where the Kansas River (Kaw) and the Missouri River converge. The place has also become the symbol of the convergence of Native Americans and Americans of European descent. The riverside park includes a memorial to Native American nations.
Although Quindaro is known as a community of African Americans, the name also comes from Wyandot, which means “bundle of sticks,” symbolizing strength in unity.
In the Argentine district of Kansas City, there is the former site of “Prophetstown” of Tenskwatawa. He was known as Prophet Shawnee, and his final home is White Feather Spring, now on private property, where there is a marker located at the end of a quiet street.
While many stories have been forgotten, there are still those who try to preserve them and right the wrongs of the past. The Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site (in what is now Fairway, Kansas) was established in 1839 as a manual training school for Native American children.
Recently, the Shawnee Mission Post reported that the town will be working with the Shawnee Tribe to rewrite the history of the residential school, to remember and honor the children who lived there.
When the Shawnee established their reserves in 1826, there were different views regarding relations with the white government and the neighbors. Some, including Chief Charles Bluejacket (who was also a Methodist minister), chose assimilation, while others, like Black Chef Bob, have worked to maintain distinct traditions within their community. Either way, they were ultimately 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 was in 1870). In Olathe (which means “beautiful” in Shawnee), references to Black Bob include a park, a street, and an elementary school.
Beyond Kansas City
Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, also began as a residential school. Learn more about the university and the locals at Cultural center and museum. You can also take a self-guided walking tour of campus.
Lawrence was the first city in Kansas to declare Indigenous Peoples Day. The Lied Center at the University of Kansas will host the 33rd KU FNSA Pow-wow and Festival of Indigenous Cultures in April 2022. (You can watch the 2021 virtual event on Facebook.)
There are still a few reservations in Kansas. Find out about the last buffalo hunt by the Prairies Band of Potawatomi or the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe in Horton. Near the Nebraska border, the Bag and Fox Nation of Missouri have a museum in Reserve, Kansas, and the Kansas and Nebraska Iowa tribe seat of governance is in White Cloud.
In Council Grove you will find the Kaw Mission and Last Chance Store, managed by the Kansas Historical Society (although currently closed for reinterpretation).
About 30 minutes from downtown Kansas City is Fort Osage in Sibley, Missouri, a living history museum that chronicles the days of the early 1800s when it was a military and trade 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 also lived in the area.
Reconstruction began in 1941 and in 1961 the fort was recognized as a National historic site, in part due to its relationship to the archaeological sites of Hopewell and Osage and the Santa Fe Trail, which began as a commercial route originally used by Native Americans.
Many displaced nations in this region were then forcibly returned to Oklahoma. The Museum of the first Americans (FAM) recently opened in Oklahoma City, telling the stories of the 39 tribal nations now in Oklahoma.
Native American art and culture
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, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Saint-Joseph Museum and the Kansas City Museum.
But Native Americans don’t just exist in the past. Traditions endure and many people express these traditions through contemporary settings. On the KCUR Real Humans podcast, host Gina Kaufmann shares the story of Alexandra Holder (Lakota), a runner from Haskell Indian Nations University who grew up in Lawrence, Kansas.
Indigenous Spirit Radio features music by many different people from across the Americas every Sunday at 5 p.m. It is a long-running show on KKFI 90.1 FM, hosted by Rhonda LeValdo, a faculty member at Haskell Indian Nations University.
The UMKC Art Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition by Gregg Deal. “Yadooa Hookwu (I’ll speak now)” explores “Aboriginal identity through multiple forms of expression”. Deal (Paiute Tribe of Pyramid Lake) is a multidisciplinary artist who addresses race relations, American history and Indian stereotypes in his work.
Want more adventures like this? Sign up for the KCUR Creative Adventure email.