Spiritual basis of justice work

This morning my Quaker meeting will continue to discuss our work for peace and justice. In preparation, I’ve been praying about the spiritual basis of justice work.

Quakers have a long history of work related to Indigenous peoples, including participation in the institutions of forced assimilation (sometimes referred to as boarding or residential schools).

In the following, Paula Palmer writes about her spiritual leading that led to a ministry related to Quakers and Native peoples. She writes, “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?”

What happened at those institutions is generating attention these days as the remains of thousands of children are being uncovered on the grounds of these institutions.

What I’ve been praying about for years is how Quakers could have become involved in those institutions? Not to judge what individual Friends might have done but wondering how the Spirit could have guided them to participate. This is a clear example of white supremacy and dominance. Those involved thought the Native children should be forced to learn the ways of the white society that was engulfing them.

This has led me to pray about:

  • How can Friends work spiritually toward truth and reconciliation?
  • What things might we be doing now that are not spiritually grounded?
  • How can we challenge and support each other to seek a spiritual basis for our work now?

As Paula Palmer writes, “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?”

Last year I responded to a call that came from two sources: from Spirit, in the manner of Friends experiencing leadings, and from a coalition of Native American organizations that is working to bring about healing for Native people who still carry wounds from the Indian boarding schools.

My leading started with a nudge four years ago and grew into a ministry called Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples. This ministry has grown in depth and breadth under the loving care of the Boulder (Colo.) Meeting. Working in partnership with Native American educators, I learned about their efforts to bring healing to the Native people, families, and communities that continue to suffer illness, despair, suicide, violence, and many forms of dysfunction that they trace to the Indian boarding school experience.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says that for healing to occur, the full truth about the boarding schools and the policy of forced assimilation must come to light in our country, as it has in Canada. The first step in a truth, reconciliation, and healing process, they say, is truth telling. A significant piece of the truth about the boarding schools is held by the Christian churches that collaborated with the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation. Quakers were among the strongest promoters of this policy and managed over 30 schools for Indian children, most of them boarding schools, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The coalition is urging the churches to research our roles during the boarding school era, contribute this research to the truth and reconciliation process, and ask ourselves what this history means to us today.

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, Oct 1, 2016


The country known as Canada went through a year’s long process of truth and reconciliation. The document referenced below is about what was learned in that process. A similar process is beginning in the land called the United States.
See: https://landbackfriends.com/2021/10/26/native-american-legislative-update/


It is due to the courage and determination of former students—the Survivors of Canada’s residential school system—that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established. They worked for decades to place the issue of the abusive treatment that students were subjected to at residential schools on the national agenda. Their perseverance led to the reaching of the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
All Canadians must now demonstrate the same level of courage and determination,
as we commit to an ongoing process of reconciliation. By establishing a new and respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, we will restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.

What We Have Learned. Principles of Truth and Reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Minute approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

To this day we have not come to grips with fundamental injustices our country was built on, the cultural genocide and theft of land from Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans and the legal justifications of bestowing rights and privileges on white land-owning men. The consequences of these injustices continue to plague our society today. And will continue to impact us until we do what is necessary to bring these injustices to light and find ways to heal these wounds.

Several Friends recently assisted Boulder Meeting Friend, Paula Palmer, to lead workshops and discussions as part of her ministry “toward right relationships with Native people.” Part of the tragedy of the theft of Native land is that some Native people don’t have the concept of land as property, belonging to a landowner. Rather they have a spiritual connection to Mother Earth, that the land is sacred and not something that can be claimed as property by anyone. Being forced to leave their land broke their spiritual bonds with the land.

Native people have asked us to begin work toward reconciliation and healing. The first step needed is truth telling, recognizing that injury or harm has taken place. One of the important parts of holding “right relationship” workshops is to determine which Native nations were on the land before white settlers arrived.

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2019

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