hatito, saawanooki (Greetings, Shawnee citizens)—
The two of us have worked together for years now to ensure that our tribal nation’s historic sites are protected and preserved. Our people’s rich history should be shared widely to serve as source of unity for Shawnees everywhere, as well as an educational resource for Shawnees and non-Shawnees alike.
Doing this work as your elected officials, we have forged numerous relationships with some of our tribe’s greatest allies in recent memory—elected leaders of other tribal nations, state & federal legislators, scrupulous historians, preservationists, and other organizational partners.
We’ve also encountered unacceptably inaccurate retellings of Shawnee history—most recently through our efforts to restore and protect the Old Methodist Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School in Fairway, Kansas. The Shawnee Business Council designated the Shawnee Indian Mission, as this landmark is more widely known, as a Shawnee Tribe Sacred Site on August 3, 2020.
In the early 1800s, Methodist reverend and slaver Thomas Johnson conceived of and founded the mission on 2,000 acres of Shawnee treaty land to intentionally strip Shawnee children of their hereditary language and culture by separating them from their families & community. During its years as a federally subsidized Indian boarding school, at least 1,400 children from more than twenty tribal nations were sent there, including Delawares, Ottawas, Wyandottes and Peorias.
The site’s remaining twelve acres and three standing buildings have been granted U.S. National Landmark and Kansas State Historic Site statuses for their historical significance. The Kansas State Historical Society, which is funded by the Kansas State legislature, owns the site, and the City of Fairway has managed its day-to-day operations since 2016.
To put it lightly, the public exhibits and programming at the Shawnee Indian Mission severely diminish its history, especially our people’s connection to the area and the period Shawnees called Kansas “home.” Additionally, we remain concerned that Shawnee or other Native children are buried at the site. And beyond these critical issues, the physical structures of the site are in great distress.
In September 2021, the Tribe engaged Architectural Resources Group (ARG), one of the nation’s leading historical architecture firms, to conduct a comprehensive site conditions assessment. They found many problems threatening the future of the historic structures and significant issues in the site’s public interpretation. In December of that year, the Tribe shared and discussed ARG’s findings with the mission’s owners, but over the course of 2022, it became clear that there is no plan to resolve the many issues plaguing the site.
As such, and after conferring with the Shawnee Business Council, we initiated conversations with Kansas legislators about potentially conveying the Shawnee Indian Mission to the Shawnee Tribe. We have also begun releasing information about the site’s condition to the public and have reached out to the leaders of the tribal nations whose children attended the mission to seek their partnership and answer any concerns they may have regarding the site’s future.
The work of ensuring our rich history is accurately portrayed might seem to be a backward-looking effort to some. But the reality is that the most pervasive problems we face today have their roots back in our removal and boarding school past. Indian Child Welfare, reservation and allotment lands, MMIW, language loss, and countless, failed federal and state policies towards Indigenous people.
We are immensely proud to have the unanimous support of the Shawnee Tribe Business Council as we take on this historic legislation, and prouder still to continue receiving letters of support from other tribal nations affected by this site and the legacy it inflicted. Additionally, we would like to extend thanks to Shawnee citizens Brian Byrd and Garet Couch and for the incredible amount of work and research they voluntarily carried out that positioned the Tribe to take on this conveyance effort. niyaawe, Brian & Garet.
The week of January 30, Senate Bill 117 and House Bill 2208 were formally introduced to the Kansas legislature. We will continue working to ensure this legislation garners the attention and support it needs to succeed this year. To stay up to date as the legislative session progresses, citizens may subscribe to the Tribe’s monthly e-newsletter, piyeetaacimoweeneefa. If you live in Kansas and would like to write your state legislators, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Accurate portrayals of Shawnee history are crucial to the historic interpretation of every state and region we have ever called “home.” Thank you for allowing us to do this work.
Chief Ben Barnes & Second Chief Baldridge