Proximity and perspective

This is likely to be a kind of stream of consciousness. Exploring proximity of distance, of time, proximity to the Spirit. How proximity changes our perspective.

I’m floundering. I seem to have become unmoored from the Quaker faith community I was raised in and chose to remain part of my entire life.

Throughout my life there have been tensions between us. One related to the profligate use of fossil fuels. I had hoped when I was led to live without a car, other Friends might also. Had hoped other Friends would be draft resisters. Find ways to join communities of color. Ways to be accountable for settling on Native lands. For participating in the cultural genocide of institutions of forced assimilation.

There have been some Friends who have done some of those things.

A number of things contribute to my current condition. One is realizing the inherent racism, evil of the colonial capitalist economic system. How have we become immune to the hunger, houselessness, disease and despair of millions of people? To endless wars? To the utter devastation of Mother Earth? All predicated on capitalism and white supremacy.

The vast majority of Quakers in the United States are white and relatively well off financially. Benefactors of capitalism and white dominant culture. Many avoid looking at the evils of the capitalist economic system they/we live in. Which, I would contend, is why we don’t have a diverse membership. Why many of us have trouble comprehending racism and privilege.

My perspective has radically changed over the past decade. First when I was blessed to become part of the Kheprw Institute community in Indianapolis. A black youth mentoring and empowerment community. I was mentored myself in the process. I learned there is no substitute for spending a great deal of time in oppressed communities. Justice work is founded on relationships. Without this development of friendships, no meaningful work can be done. This is the proximity of physical distance.

Over the past four years I have been similarly blessed to build relationships, friendships with Native people in Iowa. This was another example of the proximity of physical distance, which was the intention of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March I am profoundly grateful to have been part of. For a week in September, 2018, a small group of about 15 Native and 15 non-native folks walked together, and camped along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline. Walking down rural gravel roads, we shared our stories with each other. Began to build friendships and trust. Since then, there have been numerous occasions when we worked together.

For over a year now I have been so grateful to become part of Des Moines Mutual Aid. My good friend Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer with more than twenty years of experience, has been generously, patiently mentoring me about Mutual Aid and activism in Iowa. I spend several hours every Saturday morning with a very diverse group of friends as we put together and distribute boxes of food for those in need. Another example of proximity of distance. Over these times together we share our stories. Get to meet family members. Share our joy of being with each other. My perspective relative to Quakers and black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) has changed significantly as a result.

What has brought about my crisis of connection with Quakers has been the recent verification of the remains of Native children at residential schools in Canada. Verification because Indigenous peoples knew children were buried there.

A problem for me was Quaker involvement in some of these schools in the land called the United States. I doubt those Friends harmed the children physically. But looking back from our perspective today, grievous harm was done by forceful attempts to assimilate the children into white culture.

I knew I could not have honest relationships with my Native friends if this wasn’t brought up. So I did. Those stories are for another time.

There are Quakers and many others who contend this was done in the past. Not something that needs to be dealt with today. Not a close proximity of time.

But that is not true. Some of those schools were still in operation until around the 1970’s. And the traumas that occurred at these residential schools have been passed from generation to generation. A close proximity of time. Native peoples suffering now.

Some have suggested we aren’t accountable because there were not residential schools close to us geographically. Proximity of distance.

More what I meant by the proximity of distance relates to physical presence. Because I am often in the presence of my Native friends, I see the great pain this latest news of the Native children has caused. This totally informs my perspective.

I don’t know how often my Native friends think about it, but I imagine our conversations about Quaker involvement come to mind.

There are calls now to look for children’s remains at all the residential schools. They will undoubtedly be found. Very likely found at schools Quakers were involved with. The numbers are already staggering, with over 800 children found at just two schools. Heightening tensions between Native and non-native peoples.

So there is proximity of time. Here and now. For some Quakers there is also proximity of distance. In various ways some of us are physically in touch with Native people. Close in terms of relationships with each other.

Don’t be a bystander to white supremacy

Christine Nobiss

I know I am fortunate, and many other Friends don’t have such relationships. That needs to change.

There are several reasons I have, hopefully temporarily, created distance from Friends. Many don’t acknowledge our responsibilities in this tragic history. Contend we don’t have accountability because these schools operated in the past. Don’t feel a proximity of time. Don’t realize the depths of the pain of Native peoples, because these Friends don’t have physical proximity.

So how can Friends find ways to be present with Native people? One way is to show up for Native gatherings. One such opportunity will be this July 4th, 2021, 1 – 3 pm. West terrace Iowa State Capitol. Stop Whitewashing Genocide & Slavery!!! Bring Back Critical Race Theory & Remove Monuments to White Supremacy in Iowa! 

My friend Christine Nobiss is asking for a large turnout to support the removal of such statues in Iowa. She writes, “Don’t be a bystander to white supremacy. Fight back!” For more information: Stop Whitewashing Genocide and Slavery

I pray for proximity of the Spirit for all of us. Extremely trying days lie ahead of us. There will be an increasingly desperate need for Quakers learn about all this. So we will be prepared for what the Spirit will ask of us.

The intention of the website, LANDBACK Friends, is to help us learn and share about Quakers and Native peoples, about the Native boarding schools. Learn about the concepts of LANDBACK and Mutual Aid. LANDBACK Friends

4 thoughts on “Proximity and perspective

  1. Thanks for your thoughts. Friends in Illinois YM are beginning to acknowledge whose land we live on, and what was taken from the peoples that lived here. I can’t completely castigate the Quakers who built and ran the schools for Indians, but I can see that their lack of understanding of indigenous culture led them to cause grievous harm, and as a result, reparations are due. The fact that the harm was done in the past does not relieve us of responsibility to amend the ongoing harm that has resulted.
    Margaret, on Mississippian and Osage land.


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