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Kansas town, Kaw Nation work toward new understanding

COUNCIL GROVE, Kan. ? Throughout the Midwest small towns hold 'Founder's Day' celebrations and inevitably somewhere in the program there is a small mention of the noble savage who once wandered the area and a further note that the tribe has disappeared into history.

But in Council Grove, the Kaw or Kansa tribe that once lived there is not only mentioned, but are a large part of the 'Voices of the Wind People' pageant, an important part of a new understanding and healing between the two races that have occupied the land.

Visitors to the small Kansas community are bombarded with posters, pamphlets and pins announcing the upcoming historical pageant. Store windows are filled with information on tickets for the event. Waitresses wear the Voices pins on their uniforms and happily tell customers about the pageant Sept. 21 and 22.

'I believe they (Council Grove) really are happy to have us back,' Kaw Nation Vice Chairman Clyde McCauley said. 'We're building a park there, too. We've been pleased with the reception we have received there.'

McCauley credits a local group called Friends of the Kaw as being instrumental in helping form the trust and friendship that brought two former enemies together.

He gives much of the credit to Ron Parks, curator for the Kaw Mission in Council Grove. 'Ron has been a very positive influence. Ron Parks is a very conscientious man,' McCauley said. 'We've worked with him for four years now.'

Parks, proud of the new friendship being forged by the Kaw and Council Grove, recalled sitting in on a Chamber of Commerce meeting in the early 1990s. 'This re-enactor was playing the part of Seth Hays, one of the founders of the town ? he got to a part where he started talking about the lazy Indians who just sat around and didn't work. What amazed me was the way the crowd just smiled and nodded their heads as though they believed this. It seemed impossible at that time for those attitudes to still be alive.'

It was a wake-up call for Parks to educate those living in Council Grove to the truth about the Kaw Nation. His efforts have been fairly successful. He not only publishes a newsletter, but also makes sure he speaks to students in area schools and gives them the real story about the former inhabitants of the area they call Council Grove.

The curator for the Old Kaw Mission doesn't sugar coat the truth about what it stood for and he even questions motives of the mission's founder as he explains its history to visitors.

'Great father you people treat us like a flock of turkeys,' Al-le-ga-wa-ho, Kaw chief is quoted as saying in 1872. 'You chase us from one stream and then chase us to another and then to another stream. Soon you will chase us over the mountains and into the ocean.'

That quotation is on a plaque on the walking tour of the Kaw Mission and is shown again in a video introduction written by Parks for visitors. He appears to see the irony in the words that echo from so long ago and regret the treatment the Kaw had to endure.

'To be real honest with you it was a very negative situation,' McCauley said. 'Our people had always opened up to the white man. They were a very war-like people, but only with other tribes. With the white man, they adapted themselves to the white man's coming probably better than some of the other tribes ? to their own demise. They started using the white man's tools long before other tribes did and they deteriorated to a large extent because of that.'

McCauley went on to say that the tribe that finally located to Oklahoma was only a memory of the great nation that once populated eastern Kansas.

'The Kaw people have now recovered from that,' McCauley said with pride.

He said the writing Parks did for the 'Voices of the Wind People' performance impresses him and he is pleased with the way the former adversaries have found common ground to work on, together.

The town of Council Grove also has taken an unblinking look back at the treatment the Kaw received at the hands of the early settlers. And, like the Kaw, have put the truth of their shared history out for everyone to see.

The town now is built around the Kaw people, McCauley said. Evidence that he is speaking the truth is seen by driving through the city. Facing the pioneer mother statue of Madonna of the Prairie is the Guardian of the Grove, a bronze portrayal of a Kaw warrior created by Mark Sampsel and authorized by the Kaw Nation.

Residents of Council Grove donated money to help realize the dream of a walk-through park near town on land the Kaw purchased last year. The Kaw, once looked down upon and shunned, are being welcomed back to the home they were forced to leave. They come back as equals, not beggars, a fact of which the town is keenly aware.

'I don't know if the people up there would accept the Kaw people who left there, as they are the Kaw people who are coming back,' McCauley said. 'We have changed too.'

Townspeople now flock to the Kaw pow wow and to hear their orators and leaders when they come to town to speak.

'It's a beautiful little town,' McCauley said. 'It is a great place to visit.'

'Voices of the Wind People' has become a part of the healing process for both sides. 'It is probably one of the most realistic?if you sit and listen to it you will cry,' McCauley said. 'You will cry because of the way that the people of Council Grove treated them, it is that factual. You have strong feelings when you watch it. But the honesty of it is just startling. They are admitting they were wrong, they point to their own greed and these are their own town fathers and that is a shock.'

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