[Qewdiscussions] BlackQuaker Project: Quaker-Native American Relations, Past & Present

Margaret McCasland

via Quaker Earthcare Witness

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From: Hayley Hathaway <hayley@...>
Date: Wed, Nov 24, 2021 at 12:45 PM
Subject: [Qewdiscussions] BlackQuaker Project: Quaker-Native American Relations, Past & Present
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During this Thanksgiving--a holiday falsely touted as marking peaceful co-existence between European settlers and Native Americans
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Quaker & Native American Relations:
Voice of George Fox, Actions of William Penn, Quaker Boarding Schools and Forced Assimilation, and Words and Actions of 21st-Century Quakers 

     During this Thanksgiving--a holiday falsely touted as marking peaceful co-existence between European settlers and Native Americans--our ministry urges Friends and others to reflect on the role of Quakers in the colonization and oppression of Indigenous Peoples, as well as on current efforts of Quakers to seek Truth and Justice. The BlackQuaker Project now follows up our celebration of Indigenous People’s Day with an exploration of the relationships between Friends and Native Americans, past and present. This is a history marked by moments of compassion and understanding, as well as by acts of dispossession and practices of forced assimilation.

Voice of George Fox
     George Fox (July 1624 - 13 January 1691) first sailed to the Americas in 1671. While journeying through North America in 1672, he enjoyed the hospitality of local Indigenous leaders, received guidance from two Native Americans as he advanced from Maryland to Long Island, and conversed on matters of ethics with representatives of Indigenous Nations that he encountered. Fox came to feel that Indigenous people possessed an equivalent of the Christian Golden Rule and sought to demonstrate evidence of this common ground. Condemning the notion of forced religious conversion, Fox instead argued for an exchange of spiritual values, a call that would go unheeded by future Quakers to tragic results. In comparison, Fox’s contributions to the anti-slavery movement are far more opaque. Prior to his arrival in North America, Fox was exposed to chattel slavery during a three-month stay in Barbados in 1671. During his time in Barbadoes, he gave a sermon critical of the corporal punishment of enslaved Africans and recommended that masters take responsibility for their religious training. However, he only proposed enslaved Africans be freed after 30 years of service and never denounced the fundamental institution of chattel slavery.

Actions of William Penn
      The younger contemporary of Fox, William Penn (14 October 1644 - 30 July 1718), treated the Lenape people with more fairness than most European settlers of the era. Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1682 as a community of religious freedom for Quakers and is often praised for his relationship with the land’s indigenous people. He forged deals for land with Lenape leaders, the most famous example being the 1682 Treaty of Shackamaxon in which Penn and Lenape leader Tamanend agreed to peaceful cohabitation. However, in the 1 October 2021 Friends Journal article, “Neighbors or Tenants?,” Francis G. Hutchins argues that Penn's relationship with the Lenape was that of a landowner, leasing residency and wanting to meet “face-to-face with persons conditionally permitted to reside rent-free on his valuable land.” It must be noted that Penn did not ask for permission from Indigenous leaders when selling land rights to settlers in Susquehanna, nor were his treaties with the Lenape formally documented land grants, but simply handshake agreements that could be contested in later years by opportunistic parties, including his sons. These treaties also failed to capture the dichotomy of belief between Penn and the Lenape people, who viewed their territory as shared and not “owned” by settlers who had only just arrived in lands which the Lenape had occupied for hundreds of years.  While Penn may have been non-violent in his dealings with the Lenape, his relationship with them was still one of calculated financial transactions and long-term dispossession. 

Forced Assimilation: Quaker Native-American Boarding Schools
     We must acknowledge the history of Friends’ promoting and operating Native American Boarding Schools for over 200 years. We draw from the vital research of Friend Paula Palmer who--on behalf of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition--has worked for years to identify roughly 30 Quaker-run Native American Schools that operated between the 18th and 21st centuries. These institutions began as only day schools in 1796 before evolving into the additional practice of boarding schools during the 1850s. Children enrolled in these Quaker-run institutions had their hair forcibly shaved, were given English names, and were stripped of their language, gender norms, and clothing. Friends believed that Native American youth needed to be “civilized” as a prerequisite to their Christianization or they would relapse into their “savage” traditions. Some students ran away, in part to escape the verbal and physical abuse of their instructors. 
     Quaker involvement in practices of forced assimilation grew during the administration of USA President Ulysses S. Grant (4 March 1869 -  4 March 1877), with the implementation of his “Peace Policy.” The policy was proposed by Friends prior to Grant’s inauguration in an effort to end the violent conflicts between European settlers and Native Americans west of the Mississippi. It required Indigenous nations to forgo hunting practices and send their children to boarding schools for re-education in exchange for security and financial support. Championing the so-called “Peace Policy,” Friends even acted as agents of the Federal government within Native American reservations to enforce its practice. Quakers helped build new schools throughout the USA and also supported the “Industrial Schools,'' which forced Native children to conduct manual labor as part of their education.  The prominence of Quaker-run institutions waned during the decades following the end of Grant’s presidential tenure in 1877. Subsequent administrations were often less amenable to Quaker input on Native American policies, which led to the closures of many schools. However, Quaker-run institutions would continue in varying forms for over another century until 2006. [See the recent PBS documentary, Home from School: The Children of Carlisle, to learn more about Indigenous reactions to Native American boarding schools, including the burials of infants and others. A case study of the famous star athlete Jim Thorpe and infamous Carlisle School in PA.] 

Words and Actions of 21st Century Quakers 
     The deep cultural harms of forced assimilation are still felt today as many Native American nations throughout the USA are undertaking internal processes of healing specific to their own societies and needs. New Englanders Jamie Bissonette Lewey and Denise Altvater are among the Indigenous population country-wide--even worldwide--leading efforts to stimulate Indigenous healing in culture, identity, and economy, through retrospective justice. Quakers have also begun to address their role in policies of dispossession and forced assimilation. Multiple Quaker organizations and groups, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Canadian Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and New England Yearly Meeting, have publicly repudiated the racist and imperialist Doctrine of Discovery. [See our earlier e-newsletter]. Furthermore, in 2013, Friend Paula Palmer, with Friends Peace Teams, formed Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples (TRR). It is dedicated to raising awareness on the still-present, multi-generational trauma of Native American boarding schools and to offering guidance on how to create relationships with Indigenous Peoples shaped by Truth and Justice. TRR offers lectures and educational workshops to faith communities, schools, universities, and civic organizations. Visit their website to learn more about their current activities and participate in their national workshops. In 2021, at its annual Sessions, New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) approved a Letter of Apology to Native Americans. NEYM has also released recommendations and resources for the use of local Quaker meetings seeking to work towards better relations with Indigenous People. The Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has called for the creation of a Truth and Healing Commission on Native American Boarding School policies in the USA. Canada’s Commission on Indigenous Residential Schools has accused Canada’s boarding schools of “cultural genocide” and recommended that actions be taken at every level of government and civil society to compensate First Nations people (as Canadians call Indigenous People). Our ministry, the BlackQuaker Project, once again recommends that Quakers and others take steps to implement a program of Retrospective Justice, not only for African Americans, but also for Native Americans. This must begin with the first step: “a commitment to truth-telling,” which Friend Palmer has been doing in unflinching fashion. 
     What is your Meeting’s history with local Native American societies?  How can we undertake actions of Retrospective Justice in our own communities? Write to us at theblackquakerproject@... with your comments, questions, and concerns. 

      To learn more about the research and activities of Friend Palmer, read her 2016 Friends Journal article, “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools: Facing our History and Ourselves,” and watch her 2018 lecture at the Truth and Healing Conference at Pendle Hill. To participate in Indigenous-led efforts to institute programs of healing visit the Native American Boarding School Coalition website. For further writing on Retrospective Justice, and how Friends may apply it to help redress historical trauma, please see Harold D. Weaver’s Pendle Hill pamphlet, Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives (Oct. 2020) and his Friends Journal article, “A Proposed Plan for Retrospective Justice''  (Jan. 2021), which some Quaker organizations are using to stimulate their efforts at Truth and Justice. 

-- The BlackQuaker Project/24 Nov. 2021

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