The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska will take back 10 acres of land from the Kansas government in Doniphan County, the corner piece of northeast Kansas bordering Missouri and Nebraska. The land being yielded to the tribe is the Iowa and Sac & Fox Mission in Highland.
The Iowa and Sac & Fox Mission was built in 1846 and was most recently operating as a museum run by the Kansas Historical Society but closed in 2008 said Lance Foster, vice-chairmen and tribal historian of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. The tribe plans to reopen the museum as a part of the Ioway Tribal National Park, according to Foster.
“This would be one of the sites that would help us interpret not only our history, our story here in Kansas, but to connect to the communities nearby,” Foster said.
The Iowa and Sac & Fox Mission was originally built to educate Indigenous Americans in both English and in the Iowa language, and was integral for the survival of the language. Books for the mission were printed in both English and the Iowa language, Báxoje, to educate students in the 1850s Foster said.
The mission served the Iowa Reservation until 1854 when the U.S. Kansas Nebraska Act shrank the Iowa Tribe’s lands considerably and put the mission outside the boundaries of the reservation too far away for kids to attend school, according to the Kansas Historical Society. The mission as a school officially closed in 1863 before reopening as an orphanage for indigenous children until closing again in 1866.
It was used as a residence until 1905 then sat dormant until 1963 when the Kansas Historical Society registered the mission as a historical site. The building was converted into a drive-through museum in 1996.
Located near the town of Highland, the mission has been a valuable part of the Kansas community since its founding and the city government supports the transfer of land to the tribe, said Highland City Attorney Ted Collins.
“We call it ‘the old mission’ locally,” Collins said. “Father Irvin was the founder of the mission and founded the city of Highland as well as Highland community college.
Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said during the House hearing on March 17, that some may be concerned that the land may eventually be converted to use for gambling and casinos.
Iowa Tribe attorney Russ Brien said the land will be placed in the tribe’s federal trust and the only way gaming could be established on this piece of land would take several federal and state processes with the Kansas governor having the final say whether the land could be used for gaming.
The mission is about 10 miles south of the Ioway Reservation at White Cloud, Kansas, and is considered sacred land by the Iowa Tribe. It has several burial sites on the property and has been the site of many weddings, Foster said.
“It's kind of like an M&M cookie, right? And you’ve got all those red and green, whatever in there, and when you pop the M&M out that entire place is saturated with the red and the green dye,” Foster said. “Our idea of sacred lands is, kind of, environment. It is the entire kind of system of the water and the land and the graves.”
House Bill 2408 authorizing the Kansas State Historical Society to give the land to the Iowa Tribe passed the Kansas House unanimously on March 30, and is waiting for approval from the Senate when the Legislature returns to session.