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  • Writer's pictureRachel Red-Horse

Eliza "Lyda" Conley protector of Wyandotte Land

Eliza “Lyda” Conley was born in 1868 or 1869 and was a member of the Wyandotte tribe (Huron). Lyda was a lawyer and the first Indigenous woman to bring a case to the Supreme Court as well as the first woman to be admitted to the Kansas bar. When Conley heard of plans to develop the Huron Indian Cemetery in Kansas City, KS (where her mother and sister, along with hundreds of other Wyandotte were buried) she enrolled in law school in order to protect the burial grounds. She joined the Missouri bar in 1902 and the Kansas bar in 1910. In 1906 Congress approved legislation to move the bodies buried there and sell the land; she filed a permanent injunction against the U.S. secretary of the Interior and the Indian commissioners to prevent this. The case was heard in the Supreme Court in 1910 and Conley lost but continued her defense of the land, gaining the attention of a Kansas senator, Charles Curtis, who wrote and passed a law protecting the burial ground. For the remainder of her life she continued to fight for her ancestors by protecting this land, even filing an injunction against the city officials for disrespecting the graves. Conley was murdered during a robbery in 1946 and buried in the cemetery next to her sister. In 1971 the burial ground was added to the national register of historic places and in 2017 it was made a National Historic Landmark.

The full story of Lyda Conley, her sisters, and their fight can be found in a book titled “Whispers Like Thunder” and through online searches.

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