J500 Media and the Environment

How do you rewrite a misunderstood history? by kimwallace

Stories and ideas of respect for land are passed down by elders from generation to generation in Native American culture.

Photo by Russ Stokes:http://www.flickr.com/people/schooksonruss/

If we page through our history books, most of us can find specific themes of intolerance and domination between Native Americans and westerners throughout the years: Land. Religion. Drug use. These misunderstandings(an understatement)have caused rifts that continue on today, as cities grow larger and communities grow older. Differences in ideas and inabilities to communicate and understand conflicts of interest keep the fire alive in the battles between western ideas of progression and Native American ideas of preservation.

Locally, the Wakarusa, or Baker, Wetlands, are one example of gross misunderstanding among Lawrence residents. The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), as well as many Lawrencians, are in favor of a proposed 10-lane trafficway that would cut straight through the Wetlands and supposedly lessen heavy traffic on 23rd Street. This traffic way would connect West Lawrence with East Lawrence, and get commuters back and forth between surrounding cities. What seems like a progressive move on the planning side is a perilous move on the emotional and environmental side.

To Natives, these Wetlands are sacred grounds that are home to spirits and spirituality. To non-humans, these Wetlands are home to 255 species of exotic and (some) endangered birds, including the American symbol of freedom, the bald eagle. Yet, to those who prefer convenience and growth, these Wetlands should be home to pound after pound of paint and pavement.

On a national and historical scale, these incidences are not uncommon. Court cases from the 20 years ago, such as Lyng vs. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, document the strifes and misunderstandings that go along with any case involving Native Americans and land destruction. In that case, the government wanted to build a road through a national forest that was sacred to Native American religion, which “depend upon privacy, silence, and an undisturbed natural setting.” Similar arguments—intrusion on sacred land, prohibition on peaceful exercise of religion—were used then, suggesting that these Natives pass down, from generation to generation, ideas of preservation and respect for holy land that westerns are unable to grasp because of differences in appreciation.

These ideas of misunderstanding and disrespect for those who hold different things dear to their hearts is at the center of controversies that involve Native Americans and land. One side will always argue that what belongs to one in the eyes of the current law seals the deal—such as the case with the Baker Wetlands belonging to Baker University. The other side will always counter with the idea that common courtesy and respect for a minority that has always taken the short end of the deal since day one should be honored, or at least compromised with, in order to maintain community harmony and order. Whichever way the Native American story is sliced, almost anybody who barely paid attention in history should be able to predict the ending…unless you stand up and voice a powerful opinion now.

If you’re interested in preserving the Wetlands, let your voice be heard at City Hall, the local newspaper and in Wetlands cyberspace.



4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Nice post, Kim. Had the road project required construction through a well-known cemetary or had it called for the razing of a popular church, I’m sure the project would have been halted years ago. Instead, as you point out, there’s a disconnect in which many people outside the Native American cultures can’t understand how important the land is–they only see a quicker commute or less truck traffic on 23rd street. In short, they only see the small picture.

Your post brings up the importance of Environmental Justice as we continue to develop modern environmentalism. Saving the wetlands won’t create “green jobs” and it won’t lead to savings for consumers–if anything, it might cost consumers more as commercial trucks take longer to make their deliveries. Still, some things are more important than commerce, namely culture and spirtuality. It’s hard to convey the importance to people who simply don’t care, but it’s still important to put the message out there for those who do care but simply aren’t up on the issue. Anyway, great work!


Comment by rarab

The cost of the loss of culture and history can’t be measured. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Kim.

Comment by j500

I enjoyed reading your article Kim. As a resident of Lawrence, I am concerned for the preservation of the Wetlands and am grevious of the way my ancestors treated Native Americans. I hope we can turn it around in the Lawrence area and find redemption from a past that haunts us for the injustices in the early days of Haskell.
Larry Powers
See my Native American poems at

Comment by larryspoemshed

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

Comment by sandrar

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