A Quaker and Native Peoples: Part 1

The title says a Quaker, instead of Quakers, because I can only speak from my own experiences. There is a very long history related to Quakers and Indigenous peoples.

I’m blessed to have grown up on several farms in Iowa. That gave me a connection to the land, and appreciation of nature. But not as deep a connection to the land as Indigenous peoples have, who speak of Mother Earth, and all my relations, including all that is not human. Who have a deep spiritual connection to the earth, and say we are the land.

My love of the land deepened every time my family visited and camped in National Parks, especially Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. I grieve for the millions who have never had these opportunities, to have these experiences.

I feel closer to God there. Quakers try to be attuned to the Spirit. I felt that more often and strongly in the mountains.

I attempted to bring a piece of that home. I studied photography so I could bring at least two dimensional images back with me. The color photos below were taken in 2017, when I returned after a 7 year absence. Not knowing if or when I would return, I took 1,094 photos over the four days we were there. I guess that reveals something about me.

The black and white photo was from the old days. I developed the film and printed the photo. That photo changed my life. (You can see the snow on Long’s Peak, that is no longer there in the 2017 photos).

When the Iowa farm boy came to the city (Indianapolis) I was horrified by the foul air, the clouds of smog. This was in 1971, before catalytic converters. My nightmare was a vision of my beloved mountains hidden behind clouds of smog. I would look at that black and white photo and imagine no longer being able to see that scene. That led me to give up having a car of my own.

Not having a car meant I spent significant time in nature, such as it is in the city, as I walked to work, rode my bicycle, and ran. All these gave me time to see and photograph the natural environment I was moving through. The more I looked, the more I saw. Nature taught me how to see her beauty, even in the city.

The following is a slide from a PowerPoint presentation I’m working on.

This is how I was led to look for opportunities to know and learn from native people. How was I going to do that? As the slide indicates, it was our mutual appreciation of and concern for Mother Earth that brought us together.

I was trained by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to organize direct actions as part of the Keystone Pledge of Resistance, against the Keystone XL pipeline, in 2013. I had hoped some native people would join us, but didn’t know how to make those connections.

In 2016, I was able to use the Keystone training to help organizing gatherings in Indianapolis to oppose to the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). This time American Indians did join, and help lead us. I learned the concept of water protector, rather than protestor. And all of our gatherings included prayers. My favorite was when those involved in the work held prayers for ourselves. We gathered in a circle on the grounds of the Indiana State Capitol.

But these brief gatherings together did not allow for the formation of relationships.

The summer of 2017, I retired from my career of research related to infant lung disease at Riley Hospital for Children. I wondered how I could connect with activists in central Iowa. Internet searches revealed environmental events, which I began to show up at, even though I didn’t think I would know anyone.

The first was a rally at the Iowa State Capitol building to deliver a petition to the Governor asking for the removal of a member of the Iowa Utilities Board, who had a conflict of interest with the fossil fuel industry. The IUB is the agency that approves pipeline projects.

But someone I knew, Patti McKee, was there. Her partner is Jon Krieg who works with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), who I knew, also. Also present was Christine Nobiss of Indigenous Iowa, and Seeding Sovereignty. I had only seen Christine when she spoke at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) earlier that summer. She was part of a panel discussion about building bridges with Native peoples. Also on that panel was Donnielle Wanatee who I was soon to meet again, and become friends with.

Also there was Adam Mason, on the staff of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI). He was at the ICCI offices when I attended the Keystone Pledge of Resistance training in 2013.

I also met Heather Pearson and Kathy Byrnes there, both of whom I would meet at other environmental events.

I was able to share the photos of that meeting at the Governor’s office with those who attended. I’ve found photography to be a useful useful way to become engage with activists. It is good to be aware of ways you can contribute but it is important to ask for permission. It is also important to be aware of the concept of cultural appropriation.

What happens next will be the subject of a future blog post. But you can see how an activist can connect with others in a new community.


There is actually a lot more related to the story of this gathering in Des Moines. Part of which involved a 40 mile bicycle trip to Bear Creek Meeting after the meeting in the Governor’s office.

Reflections on September Journey

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