Quakers participated in cultural genocide against Indians
My name is Erik Geijer. I am a Swedish Quaker, meaning that I am Swedish and a member of Sweden Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. I live in Stockholm, Sweden.
One of my interests is the relationship between Quakers (also known as "Friends") and Native Americans/Indians.
Below is an article that I have written on the subject. A Swedish translation of this article has been published in "Kväkartidskrift", the magazine of the Swedish Quakers. The Quakers in Sweden have paid for some of the books that I use in my research. Apart from that, I have not received any funding.
A few introductory remarks for readers who are not familiar with Quakers:
- The Quakers are a religious group grown out of Christianity. Tolerance is (in my opinion) one of the central aspects of Quakerism. Nowadays you do not have to be Christian to be a Quaker. However, things were different in the 1800s. Some Quakers today are traditional Christians, others are not. I am at the "Universalist" end of the Quaker spectrum.
- Some Quakers believe in "mission", in the traditional Christian way. Others, including myself and most Swedish Quakers, do not believe in the idea of telling anyone else what they should believe.
- The article below describes what is probably the darkest chapter in Quaker history. I wrote it because I feel that we Quakers need to address this issue. That being said, I am proud of being a Quaker, and very glad that I have found the Quakers. I was not born into the Society of Friends.
- Quakers have, among other things, done much to fight slavery. Traditionally Quakers have done much to help others. Trying to destroy somebody's culture is not the traditional Quaker way, even though it did happen in this case.
- William Penn (an early Quaker) made a treaty with Indians in what is today Pennsylvania. This treaty is often described as "the only treaty between whites and Indians that was never broken by the whites"
- There is a strong pacifist tradition among Quakers, which explains one particularly ill-advised policy described in the text.
- "The Inner Light" (mentioned in the text below) is a Quaker term to describe that of God/the Great Spirit within each human being. The idea that there is something of God within each of us can be found in many religious groups. For Quakers, it is central.
- Sweden Yearly Meeting was founded in the 1930s, as an off-spring of British Quakerism. In other words: Swedish Quakers did not run any reservations or boarding schools in the USA in the 1800s.
- When I wrote this article, I was not aware of how the Quapaw agency was run by the Quaker agent in place (Hiram W. Jones). Now I know a little bit more about this, and it appears that the conditions on this reservation were much worse than the conditions on any other Quaker-run reservation (at least as far as I know). This is being investigated by historian Larry O'Neal, who is in the process of publishing a book on the subject.
- I continue my research, to the best of my limited time and ability, and hope to be able to publish more on this subject in the future.
A few links:
If you are not familiar with the genocide committed against Native Americans, you might want to read "The earth shall weep" by James Wilson, or the First Nations website: http://www.dickshovel.com/.
Comments about this subject are welcome, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you have information about the subject or suggestions for further study, that is welcome too. I am far from an expert on Quaker-Indian relations.
If you believe that everybody in the world, including Native Americans, need to become "civilized" and give up all non-Christian aspects of their culture, you can start by trying to "civilize" me.
Apart from the "The Inner Light", the best way I know of to describe the essence of Quakerism is this quote from George Fox: "You say that Jesus says this and Paul says that, but what do you say yourself?".
Quakers participated in cultural genocide against Indians
Few Swedes know that the wars of extermination against American Indians were followed by "cultural genocide": a strong campaign to erase the culture and society of the Indians. Quakers and other Christian groups took part in this.
Almost every effort was made to make the Indians feel that their culture was worthless, and that they had to "become white". At the same time, they were not allowed into white society and met with much racism.
One of the worst parts of this campaign was to take Indian children away from their families and send them to boarding schools, often far away from their tribe and relatives.
Here, they were at the mercy of grown-ups who all were usually white. They were told from the start that their identity was no good. Often, they were punished if they spoke their own language.
They were forced to cut their hair, which can be compared to forcing Swedish boys to wear skirts.
Quakers ran boarding schools too.
Lost her spirit at a Quaker school
At the age of eight, the girl Zitkala-Sa met Quaker missionaries who had come to the reservation where she lived. They were recruiting students for a boarding school, and she went with them.
One of the first days she and all the other new kids had their hair cut forcibly. Zitkala-Sa tried to hide, but she was found and strapped to a chair. Then, her braids fell. In her own words: "Then I lost my spirit."
Later in life, Zitkala-Sa regained her spirit. She became a famous and very important author and activist for Native American rights.
Quakers ran reservations
At the centre of Quaker involvement was a decision by President Grant 1869 to let the Quakers run several Indian reservations. "If you can make Quakers of the Indians, it will take the fight out of them".
At this time, there were hardly any white people who stood up for the Indian's right to their own culture. There were quite a few "philanthropists" who wanted to defend the Indians, but only from being physically exterminated.
Even the philanthropists wanted to "civilize" the Indians and make them into whites.
Grant's policy was sometimes called the "Peace Policy" and sometimes called the "Quaker Policy", which indicates the degree of Quaker involvement. Later, other Christian groups were put in charge of reservations as well. After about ten years, the Quakers withdrew from the management of reservations.
The intent was to "civilize"
Lawrie Tatum, one of the Quakers who were given the position as agent (meaning he was in charge of a reservation) writes that every Quaker who went to work on these reservations wanted to "civilize" the Indians.
Here is a quote from Sonja Keohane, a non-Indian:
'This "activity" of saving Indians was cloaked in language that on first blush seems to have been done with "good intentions."
The Quakers and other Christian groups were the moving force behind organizations such as the "Friends of Indians", "Indian Rights Association" and the "National Indian Association."
Yes, these folks were alarmed at the "condition" of Native people, victims of the devastation wrought by whites. Their response was to "Americanize" Indians.
These "good Intentions" had the effect of continued genocide.
The boarding schools kidnapped children and prohibited the speaking of Native language. The children were forced to shed their identity by wearing uniforms and wearing their hair in a "white" way.' (end of quote)
"Kill the Indian and save the man"
This policy is often described with the phrase "Kill the Indian and save the man".
Sonja Keohane continues:
"As for Quaker involvement was very pervasive at this time with the Indian education issue. The famous "Lake Mohonk Conferences" were held at the home of and at the invitation of a prominent Quaker and member of the Board of Indian Commissioners named Albert K. Smiley. Invited were the influential and the wealthy to discuss the "Indian Question." The group eventually called themselves "Friends of the Indian" and were one of the most influential forces among the reformers. Both Charles J. Rhoads, Indian Commissioner for 1929-34 and his assistant J. Henry Scattergood were both well known Quakers. Rhoads was a Philadelphian and had communication with Pratt. http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/
(Pratt is usually described as the founder of the boarding school system, and the person who coined the phrase "Kill the Indian and save the man".)
Viewed the Indians as inferiors
The Quakers were in charge of the reservations for several Indian tribes, among others the Comanches, Kiowas, Pawnees, Otos and Omahas.
Here is a quote from the book "With Good Intentions: Quaker Work Among the Pawnee, Otos, and Omahas in the 1870's" by Clyde Milner II.
(The Hicksites is one of the main branches of American Quakerism. They handled some of the reservations.)
'True to the egalitarianism of the Inner Light, the Hicksite administration would view the Indians of Nebraska as spiritual equals and not press for conversion to Quakerism.(...) In all other ways, however, the Hicksites would view the Indians as cultural inferiors, as wards under their care, who must assimilate the values of the white man in order to survive. Ultimately the Quakers assumed that "civilization" for the Indians did not imply a middle ground of acculturation where some white ways might be accepted. Instead the Quakers expected an eventual cultural conversion through assimilation.(...) These actions, in turn, meant the attempted break-up of Indian social and political organization.'
Power language from Quakers
It was not just a matter of trying to destroy the culture of the Indians. The Quaker agent tried to stop the Pawnee Indians from leaving their reservation, in spite of the fact that nearly all of them wanted to leave. The Quaker agent used plain power language, in the style of any bureaucrat, while ordering them to stay. (He did eventually agree to let them leave.)
The same agent did bring in the US Army to prevent bloodshed between Pawnees and whites when the whites stole a lot of (scarce) timber from the reservation. This was probably a good thing to do. But not a single white or Pawnee had been killed in the conflict. He did not bring in the Army to protect the Pawnees from their traditional Sioux enemies, who were regularly killing Pawnees including women and children. The Sioux had been attacking the Pawnees for some 40 years. During this time the number of Pawnees had decreased dramatically due mostly to diseases brought by the whites and to Sioux attacks. The Sioux attacks were the reason why the Pawnees wanted to leave. The Quakers tried, without success, to stop the Sioux attacks. However, they did succeed in making it more difficult for the Pawnees to defend themselves, by trying to force them to be pacifist in face of the enemy. (Most likely, the Quaker agent never understood what was going on in the Pawnee-Sioux war.)
Some good points as well
There are also a few good things that can be said of the Quaker activities during this period. The Quakers sometimes succeeded in defending Indians, and they were far more honest than the notoriously corrupt Indian agents that they replaced. On the Comanche-Kiowa reservation north of Texas, the Quaker agent refused for a long time when the Army wanted to pursue Indians who had raided in Texas and retreated to the reservation. Outraged Texans called these Indians "Quaker Pets".
These Quakers were "children of their time", and had the same ideas about "civilization" as any other Christian group. As far as I have found out, they always behaved at least as well or better than other Christian groups, with the exception of the ill-advised pacifist policies.
The Haudenosaunee Indian S^Ha Kahahyues wrote:
"My people met William Penn and the Quakers over 300 years ago.... if all the invaders had the same disposition things may well have been different... Although among the other English and their politics and intent... Quaker disposition toward native people and sovereignty waned too..."
Today there are Quaker activities to help Indians. Many of these activities are done through AFSC (American Friends Service Committee). Canadian Quakers are also active in helping Indians.
At least one Indian I have discussed with agrees that the Quakers were "the best of a bad bunch". However, they did take part in something terrible: cultural genocide.
In many ways, the cultural genocide continues today.
Hard to understand
Some of what I learnt about this comes from reading. However, I did not understand all that much until I found myself in an intense Internet-based discussion with Indians and non-Indians. (Several of my quotes are from that discussion.)
Quakers who know me would most likely not describe me as stupid, insensitive, ignorant or prejudiced. However, that is how I was perceived by many of the people that I interacted with, and with good cause.
My main blunder was to write that "The boarding schools and other attempts to take away your culture was disgusting (even though it was sometimes done with good intentions)." The reaction was almost as if I had told a South African Black that apartheid was sometimes done with good intentions. What difference does it make to the Indians that the cultural genocide was sometimes committed by people with good intentions? It does matter to us Quakers now, when we look at our history, but from the Indian's point of view it does not matter.
Another example of how foolish I was in the discussion, unintentionally, comes from a private correspondence with the Cherokee Hester Burkett Tribble. I wrote about the Comanche-Kiowa reservation: "That would be one of the reservations that were once run by Quakers."
Her reply: "Can you hear what you have just said? A reservation, a place that was supposed to be reserved for the people of my Comanche brother, was run by your people? This is the problem. Even if the Quakers are angels from heaven's door, that place was supposed to be for the Comanche. They did not need, and do not need any other peoples running things for them."
Apology to the Indians?
Someone in the discussion asked me if the Quakers have ever apologized for their part in the cultural genocide.
This is not just history: the issue is very much alive today for the Indians.
The Canadian government has apologized for the cultural genocide/assimilation campaign, and Catholics in the USA have made a similar apology.
As far as I know the Quakers have not apologized (I have asked, among others, the major American Quaker organizations FUM, FGC, EFI and AFSC).
It would, in my opinion, be a good idea for us to apology.
Which Quaker organization that ought to make the apology is another matter. An apology from Swedish Quakers would probably be somewhat misplaced.
The Quakers of Australia have apologized to the aborigines of Australia. Here is their 'Sorry statement':
'THE QUAKER SORRY STATEMENT TO THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF AUSTRALIA
Quakers believe reconciliation between indigenous Australians, the original custodians of the land, and non-indigenous Australians, to be the cornerstone of a non-violent inclusive Australian society.
Australia Yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) acknowledges the injustices suffered by the indigenous people of Australia since 1788. We are ashamed that we have failed to recognise the extent of dispossession, deprivation and trauma over the past 200 years. We have been and are part of a culture that has dominated, dehumanised and devalued Aboriginal religious, cultural and family life.
For this we are deeply sorry and express our heartfelt apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. We commit ourselves to working towards a reconciled Australia.
Perth, Western Australia, January 1998. '
The Quakers are not the only Australians to make this type of apology.
Similar for the Sami of Sweden
The Sami in Sweden have also been subjected to a 'cultural genocide' of similar character (even though they have not been subjected to a war of extermination).
Many Sami children were not allowed to speak their own language in school. The Sami religion is in many ways even more repressed than the religions of the American Indians.
"With Good Intentions: Quaker Work Among the Pawnee, Otos, and Omahas in the 1870's" by Clyde Milner II. Can be borrowed at the Quaker library in Stockholm.
"Lawrie Tatum Indian Agent - Quaker Values and Hard Choices", pamphlet by Robert Hixson. Can be borrowed at the Quaker library in Stockholm.
"The earth shall weep", by James Wilson. Available in paperback in Swedish bookstores. A good overview, but it holds very little information about Quakers.
"Two Ravens: The Life and Teachings of a Spiritual Warrior", by Louis Two Ravens Irwin. An autobiography by an Indian who went to a boarding school, and who suffered much from the effect of being told that his Indian identity was no good. He later became an Indian activist.
Zitkala-Sa (also known as Gertrude Bonnin) has written about her experiences:
-Impressions of an Indian childhood, http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/
-The school days of an Indian girl, http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/
A page that, among other things, describes a Quaker boarding school that had the usual ambitions: "Students were expected not to become bicultural but rather to substitute the Christian majority culture for their own."
"Pioneer School Teaching at the Comanche-Kiowa Agency School 1870-3" by Josiah Butler who ran the school.
American Friends Service Committee, AFSC, programs addressing Native Americans, http://www.afsc.org/issues/
(An older version of this article can be found