Blossom Garden Friends School
by Janice Ninan
Blossom Garden Friends School began in 1976 under the auspices of Collins Friends Meeting. The first Co-Executive was a local, Native Oakwood graduate. The school has always been involved with the Seneca Nation of Indians. Philadelphia Quakers came at the invitation of Cornplanter, Seneca chief, to start a school. Later, Levinus K. Painter was adopted as a blood brother at the Nation.
In past decades, repeated efforts by NY State to force the Seneca to charge and pay state taxes brought resistance. Natives blocked the road leading into and out of the Reservation. The blockades caused food shortages in the Nation. Both the school and Buffalo Meeting contributed funds and bulk food from our food cooperative. The school’s food cooperative has also helped individual families over the years.
From the beginning, many Natives attended and contributed to the school. Among the first Native students were two girls, each with one full and one partial arm. The knowledge that their father was exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War helped to reinforce our peace testimony. One Native student, although shy, spoke at her graduation, saying simply, “I never thought I’d make it.” Those present were surprised but moved at her perseverance and honest thoughts.
Another student, from Salamanca Territory, stayed here due to lack of transportation. His mother, a librarian, gave a talk. She said, “The Natives and Europeans traveled on separate paths, like paddling a canoe down a river side by side, both following their own path. Neither is better, neither is wrong, but they are separate.” “The Natives believed that no one could own anything, especially the earth, and that everything was to be shared. So, if someone needed a canoe, he took, used, and later returned it. But the Europeans had this idea of ownership, and when Indians borrowed, became upset, and called them thieves.”
One of our students has gone on to be elected to high office in the Seneca Nation Government.
All of our students visit the Seneca territory. Once we were invited to an Indian homestead, where we collected sap and used a fire to make maple syrup. At the invitation of the Seneca Nation Daycare, our students read stories, acted them out with costumes, used puppets, and provided activities. We have been invited to socials and participated in Social dancing. We visit the new Cattaraugus Community Center for physical education activities, learning healthy eating and canning tomatoes.
Our latest project was to send warm items and funds to Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee. In the winter the entire tribe stays in one heated building. Even that is expensive. A Native student said, “Indians are big people. We can’t just send skinny white people clothes! We need to get Indians involved!” So we put up posters, and the Cattaraugus Community Center provided extra publicity and collected for us. The Farmington Scipio Region, Collins Meeting Quaker Women, individual Friends, and the school contributed funds for heating fuel and warm winter items. This year we held a benefit and bake sale, with Native students supplying homemade corn soup and fry bread. We raised $650. All was greatly appreciated by Emerson Elk, Headman of the tribe, Jerrilynn Elk, his wife, and their people.
Blossom Garden Friends School has been blessed to work with our friends the Senecas and Lakota Sioux. The continued financial contribution of the NYYM Indian Affairs Committee has made possible purchasing books written by and for Natives, plus supplies and support. We offer our deepest appreciation for making possible the provision of an alternative education, and a wonderful, working, two-way relationship with Native friends.