Land of the Kanza

Descendant of immigrants gives portion from sale of family land to indigenous heritage society

Mar 4, 2019 by and

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NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — Until a retired Mennonite pastor came along, Kanza tribal records indicated it had never happened before.

Florence Schloneger, left, wears a shawl presented by Pauline Sharp, right, a member of the Kanza Heritage Society board, in appreciation of Schloneger’s gift to establish the organization. — Tim Huber/MWR

Florence Schloneger, left, wears a shawl presented by Pauline Sharp, right, a member of the Kanza Heritage Society board, in appreciation of Schloneger’s gift to establish the organization. — Tim Huber/MWR

No landowner had ever given something back to the Kanza people, also known as the Kaw Nation, after the U.S. government repeatedly broke and renegotiated treaties. Kanza lands encompassed 20 million acres before 1825, but were reduced to 256,000 acres near Council Grove by 1846. The tribe was forcibly removed to Oklahoma in 1873.

Six years later, in 1879, Florence Schloneger’s great-great-grandfather, a German Lutheran immigrant, homesteaded in Kansas, in the southeast corner of McPherson County, on the southern edge of what had been tribal hunting grounds.

After some of that homesteaded land was sold last year, Schloneger gave a portion of her share of the proceeds — $10,000 — to the new Kanza Heritage Society.

“The Kaw lost much more than their hunting grounds,” she said. “Their way of life was destroyed.”

The nonprofit society was created to give settler descendants like her a way to respond to injustices that benefited families like hers — and harmed indigenous people’s lives.

The topic of who the land first belonged to didn’t arise as Schloneger grew up on the family farm. It was only later on, in her pastoral career, that she began to encounter concepts related to the Doctrine of Discovery — a framework of laws and ideas entitling Christians to seize or colonize lands inhabited by non-Christians.

When she and her husband, Weldon, were co-pastoring First Mennonite Church in Be­atrice, Neb., in the early 2000s, the congregation took on a project to craft boxes for reburial of Native American remains in museums and hosted Mennonite pastor Law­rence Hart, also a Southern Cheyenne peace chief. The Schlonegers hosted him in their home and got to know him.

Florence Schloneger shared her complicity of being among the people who settled this land.

“His response was so gracious,” she said. “Although he said that was generations before and this is not part of what you need to worry about now and was very gracious, I didn’t feel let off the hook.”

Other locations they co-­pastored are Bethel Mennonite Church in West Liberty, Ohio, and Meadows Mennonite Church in Chenoa, Ill. Weldon Schloneger was pastor of Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church when it was called Neil Avenue Mennonite Church, and Florence Schloneger fulfilled an interim pastor role at First Mennonite Church of Christian in Moundridge, Kan.

A moving encounter

Later in 2013, Schloneger read the story of John Stoesz in Mennonite World Review. The former director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States had given half his profit from the sale of family land in Minnesota to a Dakota tribal organization.

“I thought, ‘I’d like to do that,’ but just thought it was impossible,” she said.

When Schloneger’s family’s land was sold last March, she contacted MCC Central States to see if staff working with indigenous justice issues knew of any options for something similar.

Peace and justice education coordinator Karin Kaufman Wall had been working with Kanza tribe member Pauline Sharp of Wichita on “Loss of Turtle Island” MCC educational presentations.

As a granddaughter of Chief Lucy, the first female chief of the Kanza/Kaw, Sharp happened to be presenting in August in the Life Enrichment program at Bethel College.

Wall set up a meeting for the two women, just before Sharp’s historical portrayal of her grandmother.

“It was very moving,” Sharp said. “We seemed to connect just right away. There were similarities in our stories, and there’s just a bond there. We talked and we cried and we hugged.”

Schloneger said she’s convinced victims and perpetrators are equally hurt.

“I don’t know in my case that the hurt was conscious, because we didn’t talk about it,” she said. “But when you let yourself really experience it, you realize how awful it is. . . .

“Pauline’s great-grandparents died of starvation while mine were accumulating all this land. What do you do with that?”

One suggestion was offered at a subsequent Life Enrichment program Feb. 13 at Bethel.

Continuing a legacy

Because of the forced relocation, most Kanza people now live in Oklahoma, and the tribe isn’t federally or state recognized in Kansas. But the Kaw Nation does own 168 acres at Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park south of Council Grove, where three Kaw villages were occupied from the 1840s to 1872.

At the end of a presen­tation by Schloneger of ­poems about her family land and the Kanza people, she and Sharp shared about the new Kanza Heritage Society, which was formed in response to Schloneger’s gift. Sharp — a member of the society’s board — presented her with a shawl made by a tribal member in Okla­homa as a token of appreciation.

“In the past few years, funds have not been available for basic maintenance of the park,” she said. “We hope the funds can be used for this.”

Days after the presentation, other donations began arriving, ranging from $10 to $1,000.

“In all of this excitement, I missed an email from Florence’s brother a week [earlier],” Sharp said. Ken Rodgers, Schloneger’s youngest brother and a music professor at Hesston College, shared his interest in matching his sister’s contribution.

“I’m blessed by that,” Schlone­ger said. “That just feels like I’m not out here on a limb by myself.”

As the Kanza Heritage Society works to maintain the legacy and memory of the people for whom Kansas is named, Sharp will also be active with MCC Central States, sharing the story of the loss of Turtle Island — a name for North America used by several Native American groups.

“I was not familiar with the Mennonite story,” she said. “When I learned there was a peace and justice department and Indigenous Visioning Circle, I was amazed. I had no idea.

“It seems like the Mennonite community is way ahead of everyone else in this area of discussion in this part of the country.”

Schloneger has been touched by Sharp’s graciousness.

“One time I said, ‘I don’t know what I would do with this story without you. With this friendship we can work together to tell this story,’ ” she recalled. “We would be willing to take this anywhere we can go. I don’t know what will come of it.

“I just hope it gives some people some consciousness.”

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Kanza Heritage  Society (a 501c3 organization), in care of Pauline Sharp, at 515 S. Main St., No. 312, Wichita, KS 67202. More information is available at 316-550-0944 or

Many ways to make amends

After John Stoesz returned half of his inheritance from his grandparents’ farm in Minnesota to indigenous organizations working for land justice — mostly to Makoce Ikikcupi (Land Recovery in Dakota) — others joined in.

“Other Mennonites in Minnesota are also contributing to Makoce Ikikcupi, including several members of Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis, as well as the church itself,” said Stoesz, who now spends much of time his raising awareness and fundraising among white Minnesotans for Native land return. “And another Mennonite is returning the yearly amount he owes in property taxes.”

Stoesz’s wife, Marcia, is also contributing a portion of her annual farm rental income from her family’s farm to the new Kanza Heritage Society.

Seattle Mennonite Church contributes to Real Rent Duwamish. The city is named for Duwamish leader Chief Seattle, and the indigenous organization gives citizens a way to stand in solidarity with the people who first lived on the land by “paying rent” that supports the revival of tribal culture through Duwamish Tribal Services.

Seattle Mennonite member Sarah Augustine is Pueblo and a steering committee member of the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. In addition to being the founder of the Suriname Indigenous Health Fund with her husband, Dan Peplow, she has worked with the World Council of Churches and other denominations on dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.

The couple live on a ranch on the Yakama Reservation in Washington and are in the process of returning their land to the Yakama.

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