Native Neighbors from Freedom’s Frontier’s Past

Franklin County Historical Society and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area
Ottawa, KS

In 2012, the Franklin County Historical Society (FCHS) approached Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area (FFNHA) with an idea for a public history program to highlight Native groups relocated to Franklin County in the 1830s and then relocated to Oklahoma by the 1870s. This idea grew into an award-winning program that engaged the local community, Native American groups, university scholars, and others curious about the area’s Native past and present.

The “Permanent Indian Frontier,” designated as the new home of Indians removed from the East Coast, South, and Great Lakes states, included the area now known as Franklin County, Kansas. The general public has only a vague understanding of the Frontier and Indian Removal in the early nineteenth-century, and this era is not thoroughly discussed in either school textbooks or popular media. Most Americans are similarly unfamiliar with present-day Native American issues and cultures. The Native Neighbors program addresses this lack with knowledge and understanding of this period’s difficult history, as well as opening a dialogue with contemporary Native groups in the area.

The public program told the story of Native life in eastern Kansas through dancing, music, traditional crafts, food, lectures, artifacts, and photographs. An exhibit of Paint Horses highlighted a modern breed developed originally from Indian ponies. Tribal representatives, both local and from descendent groups in Oklahoma, and Native professors shared their heritage with the audience and encouraged discussions and connections. These personal interactions enabled meaningful cross-cultural experiences for presenters, performers, and visitors alike. Visitors included non-Native locals and families, but also people of Native ancestry who wanted to affirm their own heritage, learn about other tribes, and connect their children to Native culture.

 Native Neighbors provided an interactive and inclusive way to share history and culture among diverse groups. The event facilitated greater awareness, communication, and understanding of the relationships between Native peoples and others in the region. The project hopes to expand to other heritage communities, and to continue building awareness of struggles for freedom, inspiring respect for multiple perspectives, and empowering residents to preserve and share stories.