This post is the first in a two-part series featuring undergraduate researchers mentored by faculty members Lisa Tatonetti and Mary Kohn, with support from the College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award program. Part 1 below shares the work of Haley Reiners (BA ’22). Stay tuned for Part 2 by Kinsley Searles (BA ’22).
I was enrolling in my first semester at Kansas State University when I first heard that it was established as the first land-grant institution in the country. Afterward, I heard it repeated at various university events, and it seemed like an obvious point of pride. However, it wasn’t until participating in the Kansas Land Treaties research project that I started understanding what that actually meant.
This past spring and summer, I worked on the Kansas Land Treaties research project through The Chapman Center for Rural Studies, which is dedicated to learning and discovering the history of Kansas. Because of this project, I learned that the land in which K-State stands on today was once the land of the Kaw Nation, an Indigenous Nation that thrived in the area. Alongside my incredible research partner, Kinsley Searles, I read articles and scholarly texts discussing the Kaw Nation and approaches to Indigenous studies. This step helped me become more educated on important aspects of Indigenous history such as the timeline of Kaw removal from the land K-State now stands on. In addition to these readings, I also spent several weeks analyzing Indigenous treaties, many of which involved the Kaw Nation. Essentially, these treaties were agreements between Indigenous nations and the United States government that stipulated concession of the land and their boundaries. Understanding and analyzing these treaties was a vital piece on the road to comprehending the history of this area of the state and how the process of K-State being determined as the first land-grant institution in the country began.
The treaty I analyzed the most was the Treaty of 1846 between the Kanza and the United States. Throughout studying this treaty—specifically the word choice and diction of the document—I noticed an imbalance of power that attributed superiority to the U.S. government and inferiority with the Kaw Nation. I spent many of my research hours creating annotations that would not only make these treaties more comprehensible to a broader audience but would also help explain the treaty’s problematic elements. For example, the first article of the document states that the Kaw Nation ceded the outlined amount of land to the U.S. government. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), cede can signify “to give way; to yield or surrender something,” which has a different meaning than the word sell. This one example of diction reiterates the hierarchy of superiority and inferiority that is detectable throughout the entire document
This research opportunity has helped me cultivate skills that will help me in my future academic endeavors. For example, I’ve learned how to properly annotate scholarly sources and other documents such as the treaties. In addition to this research, I also spent several weeks learning proper interview etiquette in order to conduct oral histories with scholars such as K-State anthropology professor, Dr. Lauren Ritterbush, and both of these skills can be applied to other research projects.
As a student, my experiences learning in classes have always been driven by me trying to find the right answer to a problem. Once the answer was found and the assignment was complete, I would move onto the next one. This research project forced me to adjust this approach.
I’ve realized that there is not always one right answer, and even if an answer is found, the issue doesn’t disappear. For example, after reading excerpts from Ronald Parks’s book, The Darkest Period: The Kanza Indians and Their Last Homeland, 1846-1873, I found lots of its information interesting. Nevertheless, I didn’t anticipate that the rest of the project would have various connections to his work since we were no longer focusing on it. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the spring semester that I fully understood the vast amount of bridges and overlaps that existed and how they could enhance and influence people’s perspectives on this subject. Essentially, there are waves to learning. It is a continuation that fluctuates. There’s really no end since there is always something to learn, something to discover.
Generations of Indigenous stories are all around us. They’re written on our sidewalks, our trees, and our campus buildings where we attend our classes. They’re everywhere we look, and yet I spent two and a half years at K-State without even knowing it. While working on this project, I have made important progress alongside my research mentors and team; nevertheless, this is only the beginning. There is still a vast amount of knowledge to uncover, and it is my hope that this project will give people the chance to effectively and properly learn the history of Indigenous peoples such as the Kaw Nation and understand the ways that their experiences and culture continue to influence the area today.
— Haley Reiners (BA ’22)