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Minutes for HB2208 - Committee on Federal and State Affairs

Short Title

Authorizing the state historical society to convey certain real property to the Shawnee Tribe.

Minutes Content for Wed, Jan 24, 2024

Chairperson Carpenter opened the hearing on HB2208.  The Revisor gave an overview of the bill.  He stated that in 2022 the Legislature passed a law similar to this one.  It conveyed a little more than half an acre to the Shawnee Tribe, which was a cemetery located in Johnson County (Attachment 1).  The supplemental note gives the background on that bill.  The quit claim deed basically gives whatever the conveyor has, but there is no guarantee that that includes the full bundle of sticks in terms of title, but that is the way the State typically conveys land. 

The Chair recognized Chief Ben Barnes, Shawnee Tribe, testified as a proponent of HB2208 (Attachment 2).  He stated that the Shawnee Indian Mission Labor School was built on Shawnee land by Shawnee people and paid for with Shawnee funds.  It opened on October 28, 1839 and has been declared a national landmark.  Unfortunately this cultural treasure is in grave distress.  Two-thirds of the site is not available to the public.  The West building, the oldest residence in Kansas, is not safe for the public to enter.  The Shawnee Tribe wants to save this site.  The passage of HB2208 will empower the Shawnee Tribe to save this site and fund the complete restoration of this landmark without costing the State a single dime.  It would also expand public access and educational opportunities for students.  They have reached out to all the tribes with a connection to this site.  They welcome collaboration with every tribal nation on this venture. 

At the Chairman's request, Mr. Milholland of Legislative Research went over the recent capital improvement projects since 2020 forward.  In FY 2020 there was a request of $242,000 for repairs to the West Building, which was later revised to $100,000 due to some savings in the rehabilitation costs.  Another $20,000 in repairs was requested to the West Building in 2021.  In FY2024, there's been a revision to the capital improvement request as a supplemental request of $350,000 to replace cedar shingles on the roofs of several buildings, including a 1930 utility building (Attachment 3).  Following the meeting, additional information was provided by Mr. Milholland (Attachment 3A)  (Attachment 3B)

The Chair recognized Joseph Rupnick, Chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation who testified in support of HB2208 (Attachment 4).  He stated that the buildings and everything associated with the Shawnee Indian Mission School are in dire need of repair.  There needs to be tribal consultation or oversight relating to that specific area in conjunction with whoever takes over the project.  They have been told different groups have been conducting seances out there, and that goes against all of their religious beliefs.  The tribes need to have oversight over any activities that are conducted there.

Chairperson Carpenter noted that there was written proponent testimony from Michelle Keller (Attachment 5); Mary Patterson, Ph.D. (Attachment 6); and Hannah Howard (Attachment 7).

Chairperson Carpenter called on Richard Squirrel to testify as a neutral on HB2208, but he was not on Webex.  The Chairperson noted that there was written neutral testimony from Mr. Squirrel (Attachment 8).

Chairperson Carpenter recognized Ken Bellmard, Director of Government Affairs, Kaw Nation, who testified as an opponent on HB2208 (Attachment 9).  He stated that the Kaw Nation Indian Tribe was the original inhabitant of the state of Kansas and the state derives its name from the Kaw  (Kansa) Nation.  Its land extended into Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado.  They are opposed to HB2208 because they were not made aware of the Shawnee Tribe's effort to have the State pass title of the land where the Shawnee Indian Mission School is located to the Shawnee Tribe until a year ago.  The Kaw Nation supports restoration of the Shawnee Indian Mission, shares the belief that improvements are needed, and welcomes cooperation with other impacted tribes in this endeavor.  However, the Kaw Nation opposes any action without their consultation, without extensive information gathering, and outright opposes the conveyance of historical Kaw lands to another tribe.

Melanie Hepperly, Mayor of Fairway, Kansas, testified in opposition to HB2208 (Attachment 10). She stated that the original Shawnee Indian Mission is located in Fairway, Kansas.  It is the most historically significant site in the state of Kansas.  It is both a state historic site and a national landmark.  It is rich in history for both the state and the 22 tribes that attended the mission school, not just one tribe.  Fairway and the surrounding communities have made strong financial commitments to the Mission for many years and volunteers spend thousands of hours donating their time to make the Mission what it is today.  She urged the Committee to vote no on HB2208.  Ownership of the Mission should remain with the State.  Questions were asked by several Committee members.  Representative Clayton requested data regarding the budget cuts and how that affected the Mission. 

The Chair allowed Chief Ben Barnes to respond to the comments made by Ms. Hepperly. 

Nathan Nogelmeier, City Administrator of Fairway, Kansas, testified in opposition to HB2208 (Attachment 11).  He stated that the Kansas Historical Society should maintain ownership of the site because they have a proven track record.  Their staff consists of historians, archivists, archeologist, researchers, and other professionals whose sole purpose is to protect the history of Kansas.  The Historical Society and the State are accountable to the people of Kansas.  If ownership of the Mission is given away, there is no accountability for what may happen.  Continued ownership by the State carries the greatest likelihood that the site will remain a public place where its full history can be on display for all to see and learn.   If the site is conveyed, no one can commit or guarantee what tribal leaders, now or in the future, will decide what to do with the land.

The Chair recognized John Forbes, Historian, Shawnee Mission Indian Historical Society, as an opponent to HB2208 (Attachment 12).  He stated that any proposal to shift ownership and control of the Shawnee Indian Mission to a group that had a limited presence for a limited time cannot be in the best interest of the public and those committed to a full and evolving understanding of its history.

David Boutros,Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation, testified in opposition to HB2208 (Attachment 13).  He stated that he strongly opposes the conveyance of the Shawnee Indian Mission Historic Site primarily because the Tribe would not be a good steward to preserve and present the varied history of the site.  The Kansas Historical Society along with the City of Fairway and the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation would provide the public a richer, more complete and useful history. 

Kathryn Gates, Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation, was recognized by the Chair as an opponent to HB2208 (Attachment 14).  She stated that the Mission is widely viewed as the most historic site in Kansas.  Public ownership provides more sureties for its future for many people.  The initiation of HB2208 has been divisive among American Indians as well as others.  It is not reflective of the Mission's past and would not bode well for its future.  

The Chair recognized Patrick Zollner, Kansas Historic Society, testified in opposition to HB2208 (Attachment 15).  He stated that the Mission site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and in 1968 as a National Historic Landmark, the highest designation in the country and one of only 26 in Kansas.  Since those listings, the Kansas Historical Society has worked closely with the National Park Service to ensure that all work follows the Secretary of Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.  Since 2016, it has partnered with the City of Fairway to operate the site.  They are both committed to telling a complete history of the site, including that of all the tribes associated with the Mission. 

Martha Wofford testified as an opponent to HB2208 (Attachment 16).  She stated that she has been a volunteer at the Shawnee Indian Mission since 2000.  She helped develop a curriculum that aligned with the state social studies' objectives for fourth graders.  They take the children on a field trip called "Trails Through the Mission."  She described what the children learn and do.  She believes it is important to keep the Mission as a state asset.  If it is conveyed to the Shawnee Tribe, she believes we will potentially lose all or a part of Kansas history and public ownership that allows all peoples to learn, visit and enjoy this most historic site in Kansas.

Myrtle (Penny) Gilbert testified in opposition to HB2208 (Attachment 17).  She stated that she believes if ownership is transferred to the Shawnee Tribe, the Mission's history will almost certainly be misrepresented.  She asked the Committee to vote against this bill.

Chairperson Carpenter noted that there was written opponent testimony from Joseph Alburty (Attachment 18); Amy and James Brown (Attachment 19); Robert Butler (Attachment 20); Daniel Church (Attachment 21); Winona Ferguson (Attachment 22); Karen Johnson (Attachment 23); Martha Lally (Attachment 24); James Lee (Attachment 25); Loring Leifer (Attachment 26); Louisa Libby (Attachment 27); Merritt Sloan McShane (Attachment 28); David O'Connell (Attachment 29); Steven Owens (Attachment 30); William Parker (Attachment 31); Stephen Platt (Attachment 32);Gene Stegeman (Attachment 33); Kathy Tarbe (Attachment 34); Paul Temme (Attachment 35); Frank Wendt (Attachment 36); Kathleen Whitworth (Attachment 37); Jana Willhaus (Attachment 38); and Holly Zane (Attachment 39)

Chairperson Carpenter closed the hearing on HB2208.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:35 a.m.