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Sharps celebrate return of Kaw Nation to Kansas

News editor

When Doug Sharp came to Marion County 24 years ago to work for Scully Estates, he managed a portfolio of properties dating back to the 1870s. William Scully of Illinois began acquiring Kansas properties at the same time the last of the Kaw, or Kanza tribe was moved from its native lands to Oklahoma.

The “People of the South Wind” returned Saturday to dedicate a dance arbor on the site of their last Kansas village at Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park south of Council Grove. Sharp had good reason to be there — his wife, Pauline, a member of the Kaw Nation, was involved in the dedication ceremony as vice president of the tribe’s cultural committee.

“This is a proud day for the Kaw people,” Pauline said in her speech. “For the first time in 142 years we are listening to a Kaw singer, hearing the drum which is the heartbeat of our nation, and dancing on our own land in Kansas.”

In a conversation between dances, Pauline described more of her feelings.

“I am thrilled beyond words,” she said. “If you talk with any Kaw tribal member they will tell you this is a special place. This is where our ancestors lived, where they walked, where they died. We can feel their spirits here, and they’re here with us today. It’s an historic event, it’s a spiritual event, and it’s very special.

Pauline’s tribal lineage includes two notable figures in Kaw Nation history.

“My grandmother was Lucy Tayiah Eads, the first woman chief of the Kaw,” Sharp said. “She was born in a teepee on a riverbank in Indian Territory in 1888. When she was six her parents died. Washunga was chief of the tribe, and in Indian custom, he adopted her and her little brother and raised them. So I claim Chief Washunga as my great-grandfather.”

Washunga was principal chief of the Kaw from when the tribe was relocated in 1873 to his death in 1908. Council Grove’s Washunga Days celebration in June is named in his honor.

Pauline said tribal heritage was part of her childhood until her father died when she was 14. She pursued an interest in re-connecting with her Kaw roots after retiring from Via Christi Health in 2012.

“There’s a lot of culture I didn’t know growing up,” she said. “It was my goal to work with the Kanza people, so the first thing I did was volunteer for the cultural committee.”

“Her interest has definitely heightened since I’ve known her, and I’ll take a little credit,” Doug said. “I’ve encouraged her to be involved.”

The Kaw purchased the land for the park in 2000. In 2013 the tribe received a $350,000 grant from Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism to build the large, open dance arbor, which was dedicated Saturday.

“Governor (Sam) Brownback was of the opinion that things won’t be right in Kansas until the Kanza Indians return, so he was very instrumental in getting a grant to build this arbor,” Pauline said.

Brownback attended the ceremony, where he received a Kaw blanket and joined in the intertribal dances.

The Kaw Nation will use the dance arbor several times a year for tribal dances, and plans to host an intertribal pow-wow later this year.

Last modified April 29, 2015

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