[Note: I don’t think I’ve sufficiently explained the reasons I’m led to share these stories with you. As Richard Wagamese wrote, “we change the world one story at a time.” I don’t know what change might come from these stories. But I encourage you to share your stories, which will be your contributions to change. The other reason is I believe our only hope for addressing our evolving environmental catastrophe is to follow the wisdom, spirituality, and centuries of experience of Indigenous peoples. That means we have to find ways to engage massive numbers of White people to educate themselves, and follow Indigenous leadership. I hope my stories might help you make your own connections with native peoples. And learn to wait patiently for them to ask for your help. It seems counterintuitive to talk about patience for such a rapidly evolving threat. But waiting for the right path is the way to success. Not frantically engaging in efforts that will not help.]
I’ve been blessed to have been led on a journey to become friends with Native Americans. Not join committees or organizations, but to become friends.
I had tried the approach of working with organizations that had laudable goals, but never seemed to achieve them. I sought, and began to discover alternative approaches about ten years ago.
One was participating in the pilot of the American Friends Service Committee’s Quaker Social Change Ministry (QSCM). That approach involved:
- Trying to get most of the people in a Quaker meeting involved in one social justice concern. That is a departure from the usual situation where individuals have their particular social justice work that the meeting supports. Getting the meeting to focus on one shared concern could bring in those who hadn’t been involved in justice work. And create new ways for Friends to learn about, and support each other.
- Secondly, the meeting needed to get out of the meetinghouse and into the community. Find a group experiencing injustice, and go there, actually be physically present.
- The most important part of becoming involved in the community the meeting wanted to partner with was to follow the lead of that community. For Friends to not make suggestions or try to give advice, until that is asked for from the community. Deeply listening was the key.
This approach was highly successful, when the Indianapolis meeting I was attending, North Meadow Circle of Friends, partnered with the black youth empowerment community, the Kheprw Institute (KI). It worked because Friends spent significant amounts of time in the KI community, and friendships developed. See more here: https://jeffkisling.com/?s=qscm
My friend, Imhotep Adisa, one of the leaders of the KI community, recently wrote:
How can we create some processes and procedures to mitigate inequity in our social, legal and economic structures? How can we begin some conversations about creating a system that is equitable? What can each of us do in the present to advance equity in our society? And how do we continue to fight for equity during these difficult times?
First and foremost, all of us, every last one of us, must engage others in our work, home and play spaces to have honest, open and authentic conversations around the issue of inequity. Some of us, particularly those in positions of power, must have the courage and strength to look more deeply at the inequitable structures that exist within their own organizations and institutions.Is equity possible in a world after COVID-19? By IMHOTEP ADISA, Indianapolis Recorder, May 15, 2020
Focusing on deep listening and spending much time together allowed everyone to begin to know and trust each other. We Quakers had to wait to be invited into KI’s work. Once we were, we could begin to help with what KI needed, not what we thought they needed. I have deep friendships with those at KI, and continue to be in touch after moving to Iowa.
That experience guided me in my search for ways to become friends with native people. I described the beginnings of this process in yesterday’s post.
My problem was there was not one physical location, as there is at KI, where I could go to begin to establish friendships with Native Americans.
One Iowa organization I connected with was Bold Iowa. I learned about them via their website. http://boldiowa.com/ I began to get to know one of the leaders of Bold Iowa, Ed Fallon. Kathy Byrnes, who I met at the event I described yesterday, is also part of Bold Iowa.
I heard Ed and Kathy were organizing a trip to Minneapolis February 4, 2018, the day before the Super Bowl would be played there, at the USBank stadium. Minneapolis is the headquarters for USBank. USBank is involved in funding the Dakota Access pipeline. You can see where this is going. We held a vigil outside the USBank headquarters.
I signed up to join them. I didn’t know who would be in the van for the trip besides Ed, who I hadn’t yet met face to face. But I was sure this would be a group of activists concerned about our environment, a great opportunity to make the connections I was looking for. And that turned out to be so.
On the trip, besides Ed Fallon was his partner Kathy Byrnes, who I had seen at the action at the State Capitol I mentioned in yesterday’s post. And Donnielle Wanatee, who had spoken to us at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I also met Trisha CaxSep GuWiga Entringer, who also became a friend, and walked on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.
Also speaking at the vigil was another person who would become my friend, Christine Nobiss.
I was surprised at what Christine and Donnielle spoke about. Rather than about fossil fuels or banks divesting from companies funding fossil fuel projects, they both mainly spoke about the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). I would soon learn these murder and assaults were perpetrated by men from the “man camps” where the pipeline workers lived during construction.
At Seeding Sovereignty this is referred to as LAND & BODY SOVEREIGNTY. MMIWGT2SR – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Trans, Two-Sprits and Relatives.
Over 90 percent of Native American womxn have experienced some sort of violence in their lifetime. 86% of those womxn are sexual assaulted by a non-tribal member. Our LGBTQIA+/Two Spirit and children also experience this increased violence, as well as many of our men. Tribal courts can’t try non-Native individuals, which means non-natives can commit crimes on Native American land—including sexual assault—with virtually zero consequence. In the United States, mainstream society fails to address this crisis even though it’s at epidemic proportions. Indigenous peoples are raped, assaulted, abused, murdered, and kidnapped at rates far above the national average. This attack on our bodies is akin to attacks on our land. The health and safety of indigenous people is directly linked to the health and safety of our land. Our Indigenous people’s body sovereignty is entwined with the sovereignty of our First Nations.
There is a direct correlation between increased rates of sexual abuse, trafficking, and domestic violence against women and children in regions where fossil fuel extraction companies set up “man camps” to house workers. Our goal is to grow the network of MMIWGT2SR activists and bring light to this problem with a platform to connect people, communities, and resources across Turtle Island in the United States and Canada.https://seedingsovereignty.org/mmiwgt2s
This is an ongoing threat to native peoples. Most, if not all, the people I came to know had direct, personal experiences related to this ongoing tragedy.
In summary, these are ways I began to get to know, and become friends, with Native Americans. It is about finding opportunities to show up where others will be. To build on those relationships, to become friends. This sometimes, or perhaps often, involves taking risks. It turned out joining this group of people who I didn’t know at the time, was a great way to find new partners in our work together.
I hope this shows why I believe developing friendships is how justice is advanced. One thing I’ve thought about is when is it that someone becomes a friend to you? If your main interactions are through social media, and not so much face to face time, at what point are you friends? I began to find when I use the word friend in what I write about a person, that is when I begin to see that person as a friend. But when do you know that person feels the same about you? It feels a bit awkward to refer to someone as a friend in these circumstances.
So another story is, when I first referred to one of my new friends as a friend in something I wrote, realizing it was something they would probably read, I was really touched when they wrote back, thanking me for referring to them as my friend.
Thank you for hanging in there with me so far. These two blog posts of stories are leading up to what I intend to write about next, the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. A transformational sacred journey.