I am broken, trying to make sense of Quakers’ involvement with the institutions of forced assimilation, the Native residential schools. In the news now because of the verification of the remains of hundreds, soon to be thousands, of children on the grounds of those institutions in both the US and Canada. Verified because Native peoples have known they were there, because thousands of children never returned home.
I can not imagine the trauma. The children forcibly removed from their families. The community not knowing if the children would ever return. Their future was stolen. Those who did return often no longer fit into the community. I only recently learned this intentional cruelty was meant to break the resistance of those Native peoples that did not want to give up their land.
I’ve read that we aren’t to feel guilt or blame for what happened in the past. But we are called to learn about the wrongs, learn the truth. Then begin to work for reconciliation and healing. Canada went through such a process, involving the government and the entire country, several years ago. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, has initiated a Federal investigation of forced assimilation in this country.
From our twenty‐first‐century vantage point, we know (or can learn) how Native people suffered and continue to suffer the consequences of actions that Friends committed 150 ago with the best of intentions. Can we hold those good intentions tenderly in one hand, and in the other hold the anguish, fear, loss, alienation, and despair borne by generations of Native Americans?
Native organizations are not asking us to judge our Quaker ancestors. They are asking, “Who are Friends today? Knowing what we know now, will Quakers join us in honest dialogue? Will they acknowledge the harm that was done? Will they seek ways to contribute toward healing processes that are desperately needed in Native communities?” These are my questions, too.Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. Facing Our History and Ourselves by Paula Palmer, Friends Journal, October 1, 2016
Although I believe we should not feel guilt, I have not yet been able to to get past my own sense of that. My head and my heart are out of synch. For a time I’ve felt I needed to distance myself from my Quaker communities. I struggle to discern if this was a spiritual leading, or just an emotional reaction. I’m still not sure. I know I continue to feel guilt. And projected this same guilt toward Friends in general. I know that is wrong and am working hard, praying to find my out of this.
Unearthing the truth was necessary not only for the victims to heal, but for the perpetrators as well. Guilt, even unacknowledged guilt, has a negative effect on the guilty. One day it will come out in some form or another. We must be radical. We must go to the root, remove that which is festering, cleanse and cauterize, and then a new beginning is possible.
Forgiveness gives us the capacity to make a new start. That is the power, the rationale, of confession and forgiveness. It is to say, “I have fallen but I am not going to remain there. Please forgive me.” And forgiveness is the grace by which you enable the other person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. Not to forgive leads to bitterness and hatred, which, just like self-hatred and self-contempt, gnaw away at the vitals of one’s being. Whether hatred is projected out or projected in, it is always corrosive of the human spirit.Truth and Reconciliation BY DESMOND TUTU, Greater Good Magazine, SEPTEMBER 1, 2004
If has been tremendously helpful to have become friends with Native people I began to know as we walked and camped together for 94 miles along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline in 2018. The main intention of that sacred journey was to create a community of native and non-native people who began to know and trust each other so we could work together. That intention was achieved.
And yet, in another way, I have more of a sense of the trauma of assimilation from seeing the terrible effects on my friends.
As Paula Palmer wrote above, “Will they [Quakers] seek ways to contribute toward healing processes that are desperately needed in Native communities?” These are my questions, too.”
I need to deal with my guilt before I can contribute to the healing processes.
I am deeply grateful for the acceptance and generosity of my Des Moines Mutual Aid community, which includes Native people. That is helping me move away from this destructive guilt.
I have faith I will be led to a better place.