Over 165,000 square miles of land makes up the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and they are rich with American Indian ancestry. We are highlighting this bountiful history to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month and the important part tribes play in the success of the Kansas City District.
The Kansas City District has four federally recognized tribes located within its area of responsibility: the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas.
Kansas City District Archeologist and Tribal Liaison Tim Meade said none of these tribes originated in this area. All four tribes moved from the Great Lakes Region around 200 years ago.
According to Vice Chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska Lance Foster, his tribe originated along the Iowa River but settled in what is now northern Kansas and southern Nebraska.
“In 1846 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act drew a line across the reservation and that is how we became known as the very confusingly named Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. We were here before Kansas and Nebraska, but the line was drawn across our reservation,” Foster said.
Before tribes like the Iowa, there were other tribes that called the area home—examples are the Osage Nation, the Kansa, the Ponca and the Pawnee—and some that were just passing through, like the Shawnee, the Delaware and the Heron.
From being the home to current stationary tribes, the past home for ancestral tribes or a transient place for tribes just passing through, the Kansas City District’s rich history helped form partnership between the Corps and native tribes.
“We are required as a federal agency to consult the tribes on our projects with anything that might affect them,” Meade said.
The Kansas City District consults with over 50 tribes who have ancestral ties to the area. Some of those conversations are about topics like water resource management issues or erosion prevention projects, and others are about native artifacts found on project sites which is a common occurrence.
“If you find an artifact, I encourage you to leave it in place and report it to the lake staff and rangers,” Meade said. “We are stewards of our past—not just Native American but all archeological and historical resources.”
Meade suggested that any artifact, big or small, should be paid the respect it deserves.
If human remains are found, there is a chance they are of native descent. Meade said those findings should be reported to local law enforcement along with lake staff.
“That is about my answer to everything—report it to the lake—because they could make a discovery that is unknown. We have so many lands that aren’t surveyed, there could be an important discovery and it could lead to our understanding of the past,” Meade said.
To understand the past, the Kansas City District command team and other district employees attend annual meetings with tribal leaders to listen and learn about how they can support tribal partners effectively.
With COVID-19 concerns, the meetings were transitioned to more virtual touch points. This year, Kansas City District Commander Col. Travis Rayfield conducted phone calls with tribal leaders to continue building relationships.
“I’m glad we are still able to meet through virtual touch points to strengthen our tribal relations and establish mutual understanding,” Kansas City District Commander Col. Travis Rayfield said. “I look forward to maintaining communications, working together and experiencing the difference these partnerships will make.”
Meade said the relationships with the tribes are getting better through new directives every day, and Foster thinks the personal relationships the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska has made with the Corps are pivotal to moving forward.
“I think the key is always people. The fact that we have an event or two every year where we have personal contact [with the District] and to be able to visit with Tim, visit with the commanders… that’s been key in creating and sustaining that partnership,” Foster said.
With the rich history inside the district’s boundaries, Foster hopes people seek the desire to celebrate American Indian Heritage by learning.
“Know something about the native history of the place you live because every place had a tribe there [at one point in time],” Foster said. “Native Americans are all around you and there is a lot of variation… we are not a race, we are 500+ nations with our own histories.”