Good Intentions

Paula Palmer spoke on the topic of “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools–Facing Our History and Ourselves” at Scattergood Friends School and Farm, a Quaker boarding school, yesterday.

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

Paula Palmer’s ministry, “Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples,” is under the care of Boulder Friends Meeting. Please contact her at

Paula wrote an article on this subject in Friends Journal, published in October, 2016.

My leading started with a nudge four years ago and grew into a ministry called Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples. This ministry has grown in depth and breadth under the loving care of the Boulder (Colo.) Meeting. Working in partnership with Native American educators, I learned about their efforts to bring healing to the Native people, families, and communities that continue to suffer illness, despair, suicide, violence, and many forms of dysfunction that they trace to the Indian boarding school experience.

More than 100,000 Native children suffered the direct consequences of the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation by means of Indian boarding schools during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their bereft parents, grandparents, siblings, and entire communities also suffered. As adults, when the former boarding school students had children, their children suffered, too. Now, through painful testimony and scientific research, we know how trauma can be passed from generation to generation. The multigenerational trauma of the boarding school experience is an open wound in Native communities today

Quaker Indian Boarding Schools; Facing Our History and Ourselves”, Paula Palmer, Friends Journal, October, 2016.

My experience, with an admittedly small sample size, is that many Friends know little if anything about the Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. Those that do assume those involved with those schools acted with the good intentions, and documents from that time support this. As it shows above, though, good intentions can cause very significant, multigenerational damage.

Very early in my work for social justice, I was actually taught that we should assume our allies are working with the best of intentions. A F/friend challenged me about that, but it took me a some time and experience to see how often good intentions result in harm. That is actually implied by that phrase. It is used, in a way, to excuse something that actually, unintentionally, caused harm.

The other thing assumed by intention is that the act or idea is the result of someone’s thinking. All too often our thinking is biased, often unconsciously. Our thinking is based upon our knowledge, which may be limited or even wrong. And in the case of thinking about a different culture, I think it safe to say our understanding is guaranteed to be inadequate.

Quakers are supposed to find direction from what is revealed to them by the Spirit, i.e. not thinking in the sense of coming up with a plan yourself. Rather seek what God is asking you to do.

As Paula says, we should not demonize people and their actions from the past. But the first step in healing these wounds is truth telling. “Facing Our History and Ourselves”. That is the purpose of Paula’s work and workshops. What is important now is to begin to answer Paula’s query:

Query: What does this history and its impact on Native communities mean for Friends today

This is just an introduction to Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. More to follow.

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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