Forgiveness

This morning’s prayers led me to reflections about forgiveness. This might be because we will be talking about Indigenous boarding schools at my Quaker meeting this morning. There were many terrible things about kidnapping native children and taking them far from home. To schools where they were forced to try to learn how to assimilate into White culture. Where many were abused, many died. Though we can’t know what they did, some of our ancestors were part of these schools.

From September 1 – 8, 2018, a small group of native and non-native people walked and camped along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline in central Iowa. This was called the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. One goal was to bring attention to the abuse of eminent domain to force landowners to permit the pipeline to be built on their property.

But the other goal was for this group to get to know each other. Begin to trust each other, so we could work on things of common interest or concern together. I didn’t know how that would develop. One thing that was on my mind was the Quaker involvement in the native boarding schools. I didn’t know whether to bring this up. For one thing I didn’t know if that would be traumatic for the native folks, and/or for me.

A friendship quickly developed with one particular native friend, Matthew. To the extent that when the Spirit moved me to do so, with some trepidation I brought up the native boarding schools. Apologized for my relatives’ involvement. He didn’t say anything at the time, but later that day he told me his family’s story related to forced assimilation.

Months later there was another opportunity to thank him for sharing his story, and he said “thank you for listening.” I like to think of this as asking for forgiveness and laying down our burdens next to each other.


When we made it back home, back over those curved roads that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.

We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story because it was by the light of those challenges we knew ourselves— We asked for forgiveness.

We laid down our burdens next to each other.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition

I think back to the years I spent with the Kheprw Institute community in Indianapolis. A black youth mentoring and empowerment community. Of course the history here relates the enslavement and white supremacy.

Sharing stories was a large part of the work we did together. Imhotep, one of the Kheprw leaders, said these shared discussions were revolutionary. “We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story because it was by the light of those challenges we knew ourselves— We asked for forgiveness.

This past year has been one of much learning and change for me. It was over a year ago that I began to make connections with Des Moines Mutual Aid. I don’t know why I hadn’t known about Mutual Aid prior to that, but am so grateful that I have.

There are two parts of this that I’m reflecting on this morning. One is my Mutual Aid friends are a very diverse community. Being an older white male, I sensed the hesitancy of many toward me. There is a wariness in general for any new person because these people are sometimes involved in things that bring attention from law enforcement. Not for doing anything wrong. Just because of peacefully protesting.

And just as important, anyone who comes to be involved in Mutal Aid has to learn a whole different way for being and working together. A fundamental part of Mutual Aid is learning to work without the vertical hierarchy that is present in almost all our relationships in our current cultures. Learning to work in ways without the vertical power structures.

These are some reason I’m thinking of forgiveness this morning. I have noticed a gradual acceptance of my presence as a white male. And as someone who has benefitted from white superiority

These things are the beginnings of forgiveness as I think of it.

Paying attention to past and present wrongs by white people in general, such as racial injustice, and finding ways to seek forgiveness, has been cathartic for me.

I’ve been involved in so many meetings and conversations about white superiority and racial justice. Most of those experiences are oriented toward identifying concerns in general, and don’t usually offer much more than going to more conferences, reading books, etc.

As I’ve tried to show here, I think it is important to think of what white people need to be forgiven for. I know many white people reject ownership of things done in the past. The problem is, trauma is passed from generation to generation. People today continue to suffer from past traumas. White people suffer transgenerational trauma, too.

For these things to happen, white people need to find ways to be with black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC).

We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story because it was by the light of those challenges we knew ourselves— We asked for forgiveness.

Joy Harjo
This entry was posted in #NDAPL, Dakota Access Pipeline, Des Moines Mutual Aid, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Quaker, race, Uncategorized, white supremacy. Bookmark the permalink.

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