An Invitation In
by Buffy Curtis
Mohawk Valley Meeting
The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign, Standing Rock journey, Roots of Injustice/Kairos Blanket exercise, Indian Affairs Committee; all of these are places where becoming an ally, learning many truths and hard lessons, encountering the chance to walk beside, have been created in my life in the past few years.
Friends are struggling with how to “invite in” diversity and growth. I suggest that we have a greater initial task of “inviting ourselves in” to our own historical roots and legacy. In this upcoming 325th anniversary of Friends’ presence in NY, we have a great opportunity. We must acknowledge the footsteps that brought us here, and their impact, in order to step into the future in full truth and integrity. Serving for the past six years on one of the oldest, continuous committees of NYYM has provided a remarkable vessel for such a learning opportunity. Researching this article and various land acknowledgements has been an eye-opening journey.
In Quaker Crosscurrents, the 300 year history of NY Friends, the section on Friends and the Indians begins, “Friends in NY…rarely met Native American Indians…until they moved to the Finger Lakes area after the Revolution.”* If that is so, where were all the peoples who originally loved and lived on the lands where Friends landed? The Algonquin, the Lenni-Lenape, the Mohican, the Munsee and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy were the original peoples of what we now know as New York City, the Hudson Valley, Albany area and the rest of what became New York state. There were 13 different tribes on Long Island alone. If the statement above is true, then by the time Quakers began arriving in 1657, thousands of peoples and their many nations were already displaced and decimated. In fact, it was with the help and kindness of these “Native New Yorkers”* that the early, often persecuted Friends survived their beginning years. The peacefulness of Friends was sufficiently different from other settlers to engender cooperation and trust.
The NYYM Indian Affairs Committee (IAC), formed in 1795, was a response to a call for help from Philadelphia YM. Upon request, the IAC engaged “to send representatives to the Oneida, Brotherton, Stockbridge and Tuscarora Indians of Oneida County.”* In fact, it is in my neighboring town of Deansboro that Quaker Thomas Dean became the first minister and liaison. His son John became their teacher and Indian Agent, “helping to promote peace and friendship with the Indians.”* They went on to establish a sawmill, a school, a farm; technology and education were seen as a way to insure the survival of the native peoples though “not interfering with their affairs or religion.”* The Friends were instrumental in negotiating disputes, often between “Christian Indians” as well as between the Indians and the white settlers, predominantly advocating for the rights of “pagan Indians.”
The practice of Friends—encouraging farming for the men, spinning, sewing and domestic work for the women—had unintended impacts. Seen as a way to increase self-sufficiency, in fact it upended the traditional gender roles. Its effects still impact their cultures today. Gradual “civilization” and domestic independence were seen as the tools and only means of survival to resist the growing white settlement pressures.
Native women had a remarkable influence as early as 1796 when the Stockbridge Indian women sent letters to their “Quaker sisters.” As a result of these requests, by 1804 the delegations and Indian committee were comprised of both men and women. The role of Haudenosaunee women upon the Suffragist movement is well documented. The recent return of original Oneida lands from a Quaker woman to the Oneida traditional women is a circle “come ’round right….”
The Indian Affairs Committee’s support of justice, education and forming of relationships, begun in the 1700 and 1800s, continues today. Our mission of raising awareness of this history and truths concerning Indigenous Peoples includes support for The Roots of Injustice workshop, the White Privilege conferences, supporting an Indigenous Elder’s presence at Sessions, bringing forward a minute on the Doctrine of Discovery, as well as the newly adopted practice of land acknowledgements before all meetings. Stipends and support of several Indigenous programs provides financial assistance to many.
225 years of Quaker and Indigenous relations includes many remarkable and complicated pieces. Recognizing “that of God in everyone(thing)” is not dissimilar to the Haudenosaunee belief of everything “being of the Creator.” We Friends are still products of our Euro-centric heritage; thus our lens can be clouded and monocular in scope. Thankfully, we embrace “continuing revelation” and remain willing to broaden our views and embrace change, if ever so slowly. May the lessons of the Two Row —two cultures traveling down the river of life, honoring each other’s uniqueness, in peace and friendship forever—continue to inform and guide our way forward. The Indian Affairs Committee extends to all, an “invitation in….”
* A more complete history can be found in the Indian Affairs minutes and handbook, articles by Christopher Densmore, and Native New Yorkers by Evan Pritchard, as quoted above.