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Native Woman Crush Wednesday: “Lyda” Conley


Elizabeth "Lyda" Burton Conley
Elizabeth “Lyda” Burton Conley

Elizabeth “Lyda” Burton Conley was the first female lawyer to be admitted to the Kansas and Missouri Bar. Conley was the first female Native plaintiff to lead a case before the U.S Supreme Court.

The case was on the subject of the sale of Huron Place Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. It was argued that the grounds were the burial place for many members of the Wyandot Nation.

Conley was a direct member of Wyandot and her mother as well as other ancestors was buried in the cemetery. She approached the Supreme Court to appeal the lower courts previous dismissal of the case. After filing the injunction, she lead her case which was then to be the first plaintiff to be on record to argue that Native American burial grounds are under federal protection.

Lyda Conley, at her graduation from Kansas City College of Law
Lyda Conley, at her graduation from Kansas City College of Law

In the process she was also one of the firsts to claim that descendants of the tribe that the treaty was made with held the right to the benefits of that treaty with the federal governments.

In her legal process with the courts, Conley also incorporated physical protest by protecting the grounds. In her matters of protection she accompanied herself with a double-barrel shotgun and threatened to shoot trespassers who attempted to “desecrate the graves of her mother and ancestors.”

Conley ended up losing the case, however continued to fight for the tribe’s rights.

While the Huron Place Cemetery was included in the treaty signed in 1855, there were multiple attempts by the U.S. government to remove the bodies of the Wyandot members and sell the land.

In 1906 Congress had approved the sale of the grounds, which Conley filed an injunction to stop the sale. This was yet another of the many attempts that Conley had made throughout her life to defend Native American Land and History Rights.

Conley died in 1946, and in 1971, the National Register of Historic Places added the cemetery to its registry. Which in 1998, allowed the tribe to keep the grounds as a culturally historic burial ground.

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