What is the relevance of Quakers to the March?

Your author here, Jeff Kisling, is a Quaker. I could have participated on the March without bringing up my faith. But there are a number of reasons why I felt I needed to do so. I thought spirituality was fundamental to indigenous cultures and I wanted to learn more about that. The Quaker expression of spirituality is fundamental in my life as well. Since one of the main purposes of the March was for us to get to know each other, so we could work together in the future, and since, I assumed, spirituality is integral to the lives of everyone on the March, I felt it was important for us to learn about each other’s faiths.

Besides Quakers Peter Clay and I, Jon Krieg who works for the Quaker organization, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Des Moines came to the press briefing at the Iowa Utilities Board, and walked with us the first day. Then, the evening of the second day of the March, my friend and boarding high school roommate, Les Tesdell, also a Quaker, joined us for a discussion of agricultural practices.

But there was another big reason I felt I needed to talk about Quakers during the March. As the Native nations were being overrun by White settlers, President Grant decided Native children should be forcibly assimilated, to learn how to adapt to White culture. When it looked like the military was going to do this, church groups asked to do this instead, and were given permission to do so. Some of those Indian boarding, or residential schools, were run by Quakers. This was a disastrous policy that resulted in the trauma, deaths, and/or physical or sexual abuse, of thousand of Native children. And the terrible trauma suffered by their families and communities. Significantly, that trauma has passed from generation to generation and has been described as an “open wound” in Native communities to this day.

There is no way trust could begin to be built between the Quakers and the Native people on the March unless that terrible history was brought out into the open.

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