Yesterday I provided some background to explain how Bear Creek Friends (Quaker) meeting decided to write a letter to British Columbia Premier, John Horgan regarding the Wet’suwet’en peoples.
Bear Creek Friends (Quaker) meetinghouse is in the Iowa countryside. Many members have been involved in agriculture and care about protecting Mother Earth. A number of Friends have various relationships with Indigenous peoples. Some Friends have worked to protect water and to stop the construction of fossil fuel pipelines in the United States, such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.Bear Creek Friends (Quaker) Meeting supports the Wet’suwet’en Peoples
There was some response on social media about the need for white people to be careful of how we get involved in areas of concern, such as solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Peoples. Complex situations with many parts. That many times more harm than good can result.
That is very important to keep in mind, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the American Friends Service Committee’s Quaker Social Change Ministry project our meeting in Indianapolis participated in. The lessons I learned were to (1) get out of the meetinghouse and into the community, and (2) when you are there do not try to provided any leadership. But instead to listen, listen very deeply. Listen until something is asked of you.
The community we connected with was the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring community. Being physically present in the KI community and being respectful, showing we were there to support them, not try to suggest changes, allowed us to get to know and trust each other as friends. It was a tremendous gift to see how that process of listening worked. And I have continued that model of deep listening, ever since. With similar positive results.
The KI community was holding monthly book discussions, of books like The New Jim Crow and An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. These discussions were open to the public. During these book discussions we Friends were encouraged to share what we felt about the book. This was an excellent process because the focus was on the ideas in the book, not on each other. At the same time we began to know each other as we shared our thoughts and stories.
We Friends looked forward to the times we could be with our new friends at KI. When we saw each other at events outside the KI Center, we greeted each other as the friends we had become. When I engage with others now, my focus is on creating friendships. These friendships make us more open to challenging each other’s viewpoints. Being friends means you have moved beyond the initial barriers of whether to trust each other. You learn each other’s skills and are thus aware of who and what might be helpful in a given situation.
It took about a year of waiting and listening until one of us was asked to share his skills in photography during KI’s summer camp.
One of the most difficult things when I retired and moved away from Indianapolis was missing my friends at the Quaker meeting and at the KI community (and co-workers at Riley Children’s Hospital). My last Sunday at Quaker meeting, my friends from KI came to the meetinghouse. It was great that most of us knew each other. When I told my friend Alvin from KI that I felt the KI community had given me a maters degree in community organizing, he said, “we’ll send you your diploma!”
I had always wondered what the KI community felt about our work together over several years. But I didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask. I’ve never shared this before, but am now because it pertains. Imhotep said, “thank you for walking the walk.” And I’m very glad the relationships between North Meadow (Indianapolis) Friends and the KI continues to this day.
This has turned out to be a long way to get to why Bear Creek Friends offered support to the Wet’suwet’en Peoples’ current situation.
Bear Creek Meeting’s meetinghouse is in a rural setting. Many members live, or at one time lived in the vicinity of the meetinghouse or nearby Earlham, Iowa. The natural world is part of our lives. We share Quaker’s value of simplicity, including being careful of the Earth’s resources we use. It has been a challenge to minimize the use of fossil fuels in rural areas, but we continue to work on that.
We don’t believe in the profligate use of fossil fuels that pervades industrial societies. Many of us have worked, continue to work to stop fossil fuel projects such as building pipelines. We often find ourselves working with Indigenous peoples on these shared concerns. This has been another opportunity for white people to listen deeply, and follow the leadership of Native peoples. And build friendships.
Friends have also felt the necessity to learn more about the history of Quakers and Native peoples. Most Friends have heard about Quakers and the Indian Boarding Schools. I think many thought, as I did, that Quakers were helping the Native people. This is, unfortunately, an stunning example of how well meaning people can cause tremendous harm. Quaker Paula Palmer has been called to a ministry about Friends and our relations with Native peoples. Her article in Friends Journal is an excellent introduction to this history: https://www.friendsjournal.org/quaker-indian-boarding-schools/ She also holds workshops about”Toward Right Relationships with Native Peoples.” The title of one presentation is “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools: Facing Our History and Ourselves.”
Native children were forcibly removed from their families. At the boarding schools their hair was cut, they weren’t allow to speak their language or observe their customs. (“forced assimilation”). They missed out on what they would have learned about their own culture. I don’t know how many died but I think the number was in the thousands.
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
I was shocked to learn how that trauma was passed from generation to generation, and continues to be “an open wound in Native communities today.”
I observed that trauma myself.
I was blessed to have walked from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa, with a small group of Native and non native people on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Sept 1-8, 2018. It took eight days to walk and camp on that 94 mile journey. The intention was for a group of people who are passionate about protecting Mother Earth, from these two cultures, to get to know each other, so we could combine our efforts going forward. Many hours and miles walking together, sharing our stories.
As I thought ahead of time about what might happen, I wondered if and how I might bring up the Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. I didn’t have a plan. The Spirit did.
I was spending a lot of time in the same places with Matthew as we both took photos (videos for him) to document the March. We talked a lot and became friends pretty quickly. We’d been walking together for a while on the second day, I think, when I was moved to say something like “I know about the Quaker Indian Boarding Schools and I’m sorry about what happened.”
I was apprehensive about whether I should have said that, whether that was appropriate or could pull up bad memories. We continued to walk side by side. All I noticed was a slight nod of his head. He always smiles, and that didn’t change.
One of the next times we walked together, Matthew shared a story with me. He had been living at Standing Rock for about six months, when he learned a new rope was needed to ferry people back and forth across a short channel of water. He offered a rope so the ferry’s operation could continue. He went on to say his mother called him after she recognized the rope while watching a TV news story. She was very upset because that brought back terrifying memories of how the Native families would use a similar rope and boat to try to help their children escape when white men came to kidnap them and take them to a boarding school. https://jeffkisling.com/2019/06/17/the-past-isnt/
Since then, I’ve often thought of what would have happened if I hadn’t acknowledged Quakers’ involvement with the boarding schools. We wouldn’t have any real trust if I acted like I wasn’t aware of the boarding schools, but he definitely was. More, he and his family are still experiencing trauma from the schools. Sometime later I told him I appreciated him sharing his story, and he said, “thanks for listening.”
This has been a long way to get to the reasons I thought Bear Creek meeting should send a letter to British Columbia’s Premier, John Horgan. There hasn’t yet been an opportunity for our meeting to meet any of the Wet’suwet’en people so we can begin to build trust, person to person, with them. The next best thing included contacting my friends who do have a relationship with the Wet’suwet’en people. Miriam, who walked on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, spent time with the Wet’suwet’en people several years ago and had moving experiences there. I was also able to get positive feedback about the Wet’suwet’en peoples from some Native friends I made on the March.
The Wet’suwet’en Peoples are also very active in using social media, blog posts and videos where they do a very good job of sharing their stories. We can hear their voices, see their faces as they share their deep convictions and connections to their land.
They ask us supporters, to share their stories with others. I have been writing blog posts that are also shared on Facebook about what I have been learning. Sharing the videos and stories the Wet’suwet’en have asked us to share. https://jeffkisling.com/?s=Wet%E2%80%99suwet%E2%80%99en+ In addition, what I write is added to the spread of Wet’suwet’en stories when I use the hashtag #WetsuwetenStrong. You can see that when you click on that link.
Those are the reasons I asked Bear Creek Friends to write the letter to John Horgan. https://jeffkisling.com/2020/01/26/bear-creek-friends-quaker-meeting-supports-the-wetsuweten-peoples/
We know the situation is complicated, There are questions about who has the authority to approve pipeline construction. Some of the law might be on the side of the Canadian government. In our letter we didn’t attempt to insert ourselves into the situation, other than to ask for de-escalation of law enforcement and for both sides to listen to each other.
We’re concerned that you are not honoring the tribal rights and unceded Wet’suwet’en territories and are threatening a raid instead.
We ask you to de-escalate the militarized police presence, meet with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, and hear their demands:
Our letter did list what the demands were, but not that we suggested we had any right ourselves to ask the government to implement those demands.
It is challenging to be in solidarity when we are not directly connected to those we are trying to support. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, I think. But is does require that we are very careful of how we choose to do so. I think it is important that we find some way to check the authenticity of the community we plan to express solidarity with.