Seeking Right Relationship with Native Americans

Native people say that for healing to occur—and
I think what Quakers are looking for when thinking about what the world needs is healing
of many kinds… for healing to occur, the first thing that needs to happen is for us
to acknowledge the harm that was done. My name is Paula Palmer. I live in Louisville,
Colorado, which is the territory of the Arapaho people. They call themselves the Hinono’eino.
My meeting is the Boulder Monthly Meeting and the Intermountain Yearly Meeting.
About 8 years ago, I experienced a leading to educate—myself first, and others—about
the real history of what happened here in this country, the real history of the colonization
of this country and the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the ongoing consequences for indigenous
people here in this country and for all of us, really. For all of us as a nation and
as communities. The first step toward reconciliation is truth
telling. This is something that’s been important to Quakers since the beginning. We were called
“seekers of the truth.” We need now to be seekers of the truth. I think one of the
main problems is that we as a country are in such denial about the history of this land.
We just so rarely mention genocide and colonization as foundational sins of our society, and—along
with slavery—these are the foundational sins of our country and we continue to be
wounded by these crimes against humanity. I ended up creating a workshop, which we’ve
now taken to almost 300 churches and colleges and universities, educating and motivating
people to think about the land that we live on. Think about the peoples who lived on that
land before European settlement. Think about those people and reach out to them.
We start with looking at what is the source of the injustices that have been committed
and continue to be committed against indigenous peoples, and we find those roots essentially
in a doctrine that’s called the doctrine of discovery, which is the justification that
Europeans used to conquer and take the lands of indigenous peoples all over the world. For Quakers, one of the periods of this history
that we have to look at ourselves is the era of the Indian Boarding Schools, because Quakers
took a leadership role among the different churches in collaborating with the U.S. government
in the forced assimilation of native children by means of the Indian Boarding Schools. We
operated something like 30 day schools and boarding schools, most of them boarding schools
for indigenous children, whose purpose was assimilation.
This is part of Quaker history that I’ve struggled to face and that I’ve tried to
share, I am trying to share with Quakers around the country, and asking us to ask, “what
are our responsibilities and what are our opportunities?”
One thing that some Quaker meetings have started doing in Canada and in the United States is
acknowledging the indigenous peoples on whose land we are living and worshiping. It’s
a way to begin to ask the question, “what kind of relationship might we have with the
native peoples who have lived here and who are living her now?”
A young Tohono Oʼodham man said in one of our workshops, “No one here today made these
things happen, but we are the ones who are living now. And we’re all in this together.”
And I think that’s what we need to hear. No one here today made all of these things
happen, but we are the ones who are living now. So what are our opportunities to work
with indigenous peoples, to engage them, to ask them, “What would right relationship
look like?”


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