Toward Right Relationships with Native People

Thomas Weber, Peter Clay, Linda Lemon, Jim Glasson and I have been working to prepare for several workshops Paula Palmer will be leading in Iowa relation to “Toward Right Relationship with Native People”, led by Paula Palmer.

Following is a letter to faith communities that explains the purpose of these workshops.

Dear Friends in Faith Communities, 

A call to faith communities has been issued by two very different organizations: the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the World Council of Churches. Indigenous and religious leaders are urging all people Of faith to take a deep look at the Doctrine of Discovery, the 15th century papal edict that authorized European Christian nations to “invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all.. .pagans and other enemies of Christ.. .to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery …and.. .to take away all their possessions and property”  (Pope Nicholas V) 

Why do we need to dredge up the Doctrine of Discovery now, more than 500 years later? Because over the centuries, the Doctrine has been embedded in a world view of European superiority and domination and in the legal codes of the lands the Europeans colonized. It continues to be cited by courts in our country and others as justification for denying Indigenous Peoples their rights. The notion of European superiority and domination has been perpetuated by our schools and other institutions. The consequences can be seen in the disproportionate poverty and ill health of Native American people today. How much has it influenced our own thoughts and actions? 

At the Boulder, Colorado, Quaker meeting, the Indigenous Peoples Concerns (IPC) Committee responded to the call from Indigenous and religious leaders by undertaking a study of the Doctrine of Discovery and of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration, approved by the UN General Assembly in 2007, is an effective antidote to the Doctrine of Discovery because it defines Indigenous Peoples’ inalienable rights, which the Doctrine of Discovery systematically violates. Boulder’s IPC committee asked itself, “How can we help educate Friends and other faith communities about these issues and encourage them to answer the call to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and support implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?” 

With the guidance and encouragement of Native American educators, we developed a 2-hour participatory workshop and a Resource Kit, and we presented these to the Boulder Friends meeting. Our meeting was led to approve a minute repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and endorsing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our minute now stands with similar statements that have been issued by various church bodies in Canada and the U.S.

In October 2013, the Boulder Friends Meeting established the Toward Right Relationship project to carry this work to the wider community. By now, we have presented our workshops more than 80 times in 16 states, at the invitation Of churches, schools, colleges, universities, and civic organizations. Our goal IS to raise awareness and concern about our broken relationships with the Indigenous peoples Of our land, and to set our feet on a path toward right relationship.

Paula Palmer is a sociologist, writer, and activist for human rights, social justice, and environmental protection. As director of Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples, a project of the Indigenous Peoples Concerns committee of the Boulder Friends Meeting (Quakers), she created and facilitates workshops titled, “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with America’s Native Peoples” (for adults) and “Re-Discovering America: Understanding Colonization” (for middle schools and high schools).

The Toward Right Relationship project of the Boulder Friends Meeting (Quakers) offers this workshop in response to calls from Indigenous leaders and the World Council of Churches. The 2-hour exercise traces the historic and ongoing impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery, the 15th-century justification for European subjugation of non-Christian peoples.  Our goal is to raise our level of knowledge and concern about these impacts, recognize them in ourselves and our institutions, and explore how we can begin to take actions toward “right relationship.” We provide a Resource Kit with suggestions for continued study, reflection, and action.

In the Doctrine of Discovery, we find the roots of injustice.  In the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we find the seeds of change. How can we nurture these seeds to bring forth the fruits of right relationship among all peoples?

One part of this process is to acknowledge whose land it is that we are meeting on. Several people worked on the following acknowledgement statement, which was shared with the Meskwaki Nation to check the accuracy of the statement.

We begin by acknowledging that the Land between Two Rivers, where we sit and stand today, has been the traditional homeland for many independent nations. These include the Ioway and the Otoe, who were here since before recorded time. The Omaha and the Ponca were here, moving to new lands before white settlers arrived. The Pawnee used this land for hunting grounds. The Sioux, Sauk and Meskwaki were here long before European settlers came. Members of many different Indigenous nations have lived on these plains. Let us remember that we occupy their homeland and that this land was taken by force. Today, only the Meskwaki Nation, the Red Earth People, maintain their sovereignty on their land in the state of Iowa. They persevered and refused to be dispossessed of their home. Place names all over our state recognize famous Meskwaki chiefs of the 1800s like Poweshiek, Wapello, Appanoose, and Taiomah or Tama. We honor the Meskwaki Nation for their courage, and for maintaining their language, culture and spirituality. May our time together bring respectful new openings for right relationship to grow.

The first workshop, “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change” was held at the West Branch Friends Church with the help of Jim Glasson who attends there. Photos from the workshop appear below. I’ll be talking more about my experience later, but this introduction is becoming long enough for today.

I would definitely encourage you to attend the next presentation of “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change” workshop that will be held in Des Moines this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines 1800 Bell Ave. Des Moines Iowa. To register, please contact Linda Lemons or 515-229-1404 For more information, visit

This morning I awoke to a beautiful morning at Scattergood Friends School and Farm, near West Branch. This morning Paula will lead the workshop “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools–Facing Our History and Ourselves”.

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:

I was a little familiar with some of this, but found what I knew was just the surface of a deep and troubling history. I’ve been led to study this more deeply ever since learning this workshop would occur here at Scattergood. Paula will begin with the presentation at 9:00 am, followed by an hour of discussion. That will be followed by meeting for worship at 11:00.

Thanks to Scattergood Friends School for the hospitality, and to Irving Treadway from the School who provided an excellent meal last night at the West Branch Friends Church. And to Jim Glasson and the West Branch Friends Church for graciously hosting last night’s workshop.

This entry was posted in Indigenous, Native Americans, Quaker, Quaker Meetings, Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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