White Quakers and Native Peoples

Recently I find myself wondering more often, thinking more deeply about what white Quakers, such as myself, were, are and might become. This questioning comes from a variety of experiences over the past fifty years. Being blessed to have become engaged with several communities. Communities of Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC). Communities where white Quakers don’t generally have a presence. Any presence. Those experiences expanded both my views and wonderment.

In the following, when I say “we” I am referring to white Quakers. I appreciated it when it was pointed out that I was inferring “white” Quakers when I used the term Quaker. There are more Quakers in Africa, black Friends, than there are white Friends in the land known as North America. There are some native people who are Quakers, but the number is very small as far as I know.

It has been disconcerting to be involved in a process over my lifetime that has revolutionized the relationships of white Quakers, particularly white Quaker males, to non white communities. I grew up in white Quaker communities, attended a Quaker high school and college. I was a draft resister. My first work after college was a two year Quaker volunteer project in inner city Indianapolis. Was on the General Committee of Friends Committee on National Legislation. I organized to resist fossil fuel pipelines.

Importantly, these things are not unusual for many white Quakers. Those experiences reflected what had been my/our white Quaker worldview. That we had skills we could, should offer to support peace and justice work. Work that was supposed to be informed by spiritual guidance.

The revolutionary changes now stem from the growing realization that this viewpoint was not only not helpful in most cases, but actually harmful. A viewpoint consistent with white privilege and supremacy. This realization is informed by what are now known as tragic consequences of white Quaker participation in settler colonization, forced assimilation of native children, and enslavement. This must mean spiritual guidance was either not sought, or was misinterpreted.

Both white Quakers and those we sought to engage with have recognized these tragic mistakes. Mistakes from the past, and in too many cases continue to this day. A grand awakening has been occurring for years. Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) have mobilized globally to do what is needed in their own communities. Do what is necessary to protect Mother Earth.

There are at least two consequences of this for white Quakers. One is we are no longer invited to provide leadership in those communities. In some instances our very presence is unwanted. If we can be present, it must be as observers. Learning and waiting for the community to ask what they need from us, if anything. Our work becomes teaching our white Quaker communities what we have learned, what is being asked of us. That includes discouraging white Quakers from continuing to work as white supremacists.

The second consequence is to consider what we are led to do for the process of reparation?

It is difficult to determine what happened in the past. Written and photographic material is scarce or non existent. Even with such documentation, the motivations behind the history may be unknown, or there may be conflicting versions. Future generations may have the opposite problem of far too much documentation, too many stories about our times now.

These historical stories of what white Quakers were are essential to understanding what white Quakers are now. As a continuum. Traumas from the past are passed from generation to generation. Both for those who experienced the trauma, and those who contributed to causing the trauma.

I plan to write a series of articles about white Quakers and these various examples of engagement with non white communities. What follows today is part of the history of white Quakers related to Indigenous peoples; those who have lived for centuries on the lands referred to as North America.

Land theft and settler colonization

At first I wrote many white Quakers settled on Indigenous land when actually all white Quakers settled on Indigenous land. This photo, circa 1900, is of my ancestors, who settled on the traditional lands of the Báxoje (Ioway), Osakiwaki (Sauk) and Meskwaki (Fox) Peoples. Many other Indigenous Nations also lived in and traveled through what is now called Iowa. Where a number of descendants of white Quakers live to this day. Where relatives and friends of mine live now. The Quaker meetinghouse I attend, Bear Creek, is in this area.

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Bear Creek Friends Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

Part of what draws me to Quakerism is our commitment to seeking the Truth collectively. We do not hide from the Light that can be painful in its revealing work. It is painful to me as I look on our history, and can easily choose to focus on or lift up the gems of things we, as Friends, “got right” along the way, without acknowledging the deep harm that was also caused, and still undermines our connection to Spirit today. Quakers have complicated histories with Quaker Boarding Schools, colonization, white supremacy culture, and the prison industrial complex to name a few. It is harmful to ignore these challenging pieces of our shared history, and I see it very clearly as part of my work, as a Quaker committed to the future of this community, to recognize these places, and not hide from them.

We need to continually acknowledge the harm the Religious Society of Friends has done in the past as we work towards the Continuing Revolution we believe in, which looks to me like what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would call the Beloved Community. The work is made manifest when we listen deeply to movement of the Spirit inwardly, and amongst Friends. This is not going to be comfortable, and shall be taken on with humility and openness. Quakers are Colonizers, on this land and in other lands.  What is our work in decolonizing our meetings, communities, and institutions?

Quakers are Colonizers by Liz Nicholson, Quaker Voluntary Service, Nov 22, 2018

Bear Creek Friends have long been aware of some of the native history of the lands the meetinghouse is on. Friends have been engaged with the annual Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke celebration, held at the Kuehn Conservation Area just a few miles from the meetinghouse.

See: “prairie awakening” | Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)

The following are some photos of Bear Creek Friends and the Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke celebration.

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

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