May 7, 2022: New traveling exhibit tells story of self-rule among Indigenous nations

Group of Kickapoo Indians, standing outside tent, dressed in Euro-American clothing

Image: Members of the Kiwigapawa (Kickapoo) tribe standing outside a tent, dressed in Euro-American clothing. 1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


A new traveling exhibit explores how Indigenous nations expressed autonomy during their years in “Indian Territory” Kansas. “Living Sovereignty: Sustaining Indigenous Autonomy in ‘Indian Territory’ Kansas” will open at the Old Depot Museum on Saturday, May 7.

For generations before European and American settlement, Indigenous nations and tribes embodied sovereignty—the right to self-rule. Maintaining that sense of self-rule and self-government through years of interactions with the United States government is a challenge Indigenous nations and tribes still face today. Over the years, Indigenous peoples have expressed sovereignty through cultural preservation, religious expression, utilization of the U.S. legal system, protest, and in the negotiation of treaties.

In the heart of “Indian Territory” Kansas is the land that is now Franklin County, which was once home to the Osage and Kanza nations and became the home of numerous other tribes forced out of the eastern United States, including the Mission Band of Potawatomis, Shawnees, Sac & Fox of the Upper Mississippi, Ottawas of Blanchard’s Ford, Ottawas of Roches des Boeuf, Swan Creek & Black River Chippewas, Munsees, Peorias, Pianke shaws, Kankaskias, and Weas. Over time, many people living on the reservations in Franklin County were either removed to Oklahoma or lost their status as members of federally recognized tribes.

“Living Sovereignty,” a traveling Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area exhibit, was developed by KU Museum Studies Program students with the assistance of an advisory group of faculty members and students from Haskell Indian Nations University as well as staff at the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence. The exhibit examines the stories of the Indigenous nations of Kansas and Missouri and issues like relocation, resistance, tribal self-government, and speaking the truth about Indigenous peoples. The exhibit will be on display through July 9.

In addition to the FFNHA exhibit, the Old Depot Museum will host “The Munsee Tribe in Kansas, 1859-present,” an exhibit created by members of The Munsee Tribe of Kansas and focused on the story of the Munsees and Chippewas, who shared a reservation in Franklin County.

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