Boarding schools: Indian and Quaker

A workshop titled “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools, Facing our History and Ourselves” will be held on July 7, 2019, 9 – 11 am , at Scattergood Friends School and Farm. The workshop will be led by Paula Palmer, supported by Boulder Friends Meeting.

During her tenure as Pendle Hill’s 2016 Cadbury Scholar, Toward Right Relationship project director Paula Palmer is conducting research on the role Quakers played in conceptualizing, promoting, and carrying out the forced assimilation policies of the last two centuries.

Native American organizations are asking churches to join in a Truth and Reconciliation process to bring about healing for Native American families that continue to suffer the consequences of the Indian boarding schools. With support from Pendle Hill (the Cadbury scholarship), Friends Historical Library (the Moore Fellowship), the Native American Rights Fund, and other Friendly sources, Paula Palmer researched the role that Friends played in implementing the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation of Native children. For a link to her 50-minute slide presentation and other resources, please see: .

My experience has been that not many Friends have an accurate awareness of the history of Quakers’ involvement with Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. This is yet another example of how history is rewritten to show the colonists in a better light. Instead, Native children were forcibly taken from their families. The recent U.S. policy of taking children from their parents at the southern border is not the first time this cruelty has been employed.

Mainstream historians sometimes assert that because people in the past didn’t know any better, we cannot judge the past by the standards of the present. Yet there have always been vibrant social movements that criticize racist government policies. The leaders, at least, have been fully aware of these objections all along…But the vast majority of settlers clearly understood their role as shock troops for colonization and violently asserted their claims to Indigenous territory.

Dunbar-Ortez, Indigenous Peoples’ History, 59

“In the Allotment era of the 1880s to 1920s, a “unilateralist” federal government attacked the cohesion of Indian reservations by privatizing and dividing collectively held reservation lands, then confiscating individual plots for unpaid taxes and selling off large tracts of “surplus” lands to non-Indians. At the same time, many Native youths were moved to boarding schools in a coordinated church-government effort to forcibly assimilate them into mainstream “American” culture. The boarding schools were horrific dens of mistreatment and death, yet inadvertently brought Native youth from different tribes into contact with one another, prompting resistance from students and their families, and educated some of the youths in the skills they later used to fight for tribal sovereignty.

“Unlikely Alliances. Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands”, Zoltan Grossman, University of Washington Press

It seems ironic that this workshop about Quaker Indian Boarding Schools is being held at Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker boarding school that I and many of my family and friends attended. I was blessed to be able to attend Scattergood, where in many ways the education I received there was superior to subsequent college attendance. Much of the reason for that is education at Scattergood teaches beyond academics, specifically teaching by participating in living in community 24/7, and learning to solve community problems.

Not having attended Paula Palmer’s workshop about this, yet, I’m pretty sure the following is not what she will be teaching. I suggest we to do some role playing. Imagine you are an adult in a Native family. One day armed white men swoop into your camp, and forcibly take away school aged children. You might not hear from or about your children for months, if ever. If you do get to see them, they have white people’s haircuts and clothes. The have been traumatized in the process of not being able to use their own language and customs, forced instead to try to learn white people’s language and customs.

What does this history and its impact on Native communities mean for us today?

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