Federal marshals destroyed the stronghold several times, and each time the sisters rebuilt. Finally, the notoriety surrounding the struggle persuaded federal officials to give up their fight. In 1913, Congress approved legislation introduced by Kansas Sen. Charles Curtis that repealed the bill authorizing the sale of the cemetery and made it a national monument. “Those who knew the Conley sisters in their later years have attested that they spent much of their time in the cemetery, close to the graves of their ancestors, watching over them and honoring their spirits,” Dayton writes in her essay. Although the history of her matriarchal tribe is full of strong and courageous women, Holly Zane says Lyda Conley stands out as a heroine because she was a “modern” woman who remained loyal to tribal traditions. “Against all odds, she took on adversaries to those traditions, as a public servant serving our tribe’s interests, at great personal sacrifice to herself. Although she didn’t win her lawsuit, she did win the battle,” Holly says. “Her story inspired me to go to law school and to dedicate my professional life to public service.” In a fighter’s footsteps Holly Zane has worked for the Kansas Department of Corrections since 1991. She currently serves as human resources manager. On a pro bono basis, she routinely drafts documents for her tribe, including letters, policies and procedures, constitutional provisions, agreements and ordinances. She is also conducting research and acting as liaison with a consortium of attorneys who are representing her tribe in a federal lawsuit similar to Cobell v. Salazar. She found herself fighting Lyda Conley’s fight some years ago while serving as her tribe’s attorney general. She represented the tribe and individual members in U.S. District Court in Kansas in a lawsuit against the federal government and the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma, who sought to place a casino on stilts with a glass floor above the cemetery. “I was able to build upon and vary the arguments made by Lyda Conley in her case to preserve and protect the Huron Cemetery,” Holly says. “Eventually my tribe was able to get what it wanted: a binding agreement with the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma in which it recognized my tribe’s rights to the cemetery and agreed to never commercially develop the cemetery.” Just as Charles Curtis came to the tribe’s aid during Conley’s fight, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) came to the tribe’s aid during its 1996 battle to save the cemetery. Congress passed into law in 1997 a stipulation, sponsored by Brownback, L’82, that the cemetery could not be used for anything other than a burial ground.
“We are forever grateful to Sen. Brownback,” Holly says. Her first exposure to federal Indian law came during a course on the subject at KU Law. She enjoyed her time at Green Hall, where she joined the Hispanic American Law Students Association because a chapter of the Native American Law Students Association did not yet exist. Now she’s a member of the school’s Diversity Advisory Council and participates each year in the government career fair, advising CLICK here to read KU Law students on a comprehensive history traditional and nonof the Wyandot people traditional careers in government. She and her siblings – she also has a sister named Kristen Zane who has an engineering degree from KU – are eagerly anticipating the release of “Whispers Like Thunder.” “The history and contributions of the Wyandots in the Kansas City area have largely been forgotten by the general public,” says Steve Zane, in-house counsel for Layne Christensen Company. “It took a lot of courage and persistence on the part of the Conley sisters and others to stand up for what is right against almost insurmountable odds. I think people will really be inspired by their story. I don’t think you can underestimate the power of the screen to breathe life into such a story.” — Historical accounts in this article rely on former KU Law Professor Kim Dayton’s article “‘Trespassers Beware!’: Lyda Burton Conley and the Battle for Huron Place Cemetery,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism (1996). Her essay provides a comprehensive history of the Wyandot people and the Conley sisters’ fight to preserve a piece of that history. Read the essay by clicking on the link above. A split in the tribe led to different spellings for the Oklahoma and Kansas nations.
KU LAW MAGAZINE 37
Published on May 4, 2009
Published on May 4, 2009
A magazine for alumni and friends of the University of Kansas School of Law. Story highlights include: Alumni spread legal roots in rural Ka...