Following are stories about the documentary They Found Us by Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos who is a member of George Gordon First Nation. My friend Christine Nobiss is also a member and has been working to get funds to support the video. The documentary is about the search for unmarked graves at their rez, George Gordon First Nation.
If you click on this image, you will see a remarkable and powerful 3D image that can be moved using your mouse. In an eerie and disturbing way, you find the children.
Well my documentary They Found us got a nomination for best documentary Althens Film Freeway fest. If I win I will be put in for best movie of the year. We’re I would be going to Athens Greece for the film fest Let’s just see what happens Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos
As described in the following letter, the project was originally for a compilation of Elder’s narratives. But during the initial interviews, the findings of the 215 bodies outside the Kamloops residential school changed the direction of the documentary. To focus on the process that George Gordon’s First Nation was undertaking related to the unmarked graves or bodies at the GGFN reserve’s residential school.
March 27, 2022
This letter in regards to a request for financial support for a documentary title “They Found Us”, to support community presentations of this film that I produced.
My name is Curt Young and I a member of the George Gordon’s First Nation. I am a descendant of Mike Longman, along with my mother Longman-Young; both members of this nation. The development of this documentary was an intent for myself to learn more about my maternal familial lineage, as I had not grown up on GGFN and wanted more connections to my cultural heritage. I applied for the “Peoples Investment Grant”, while residing in Calgary and was a successful candidate. These funds were intended to financially support a compilation of Elder’s narratives, however, during the initial interviews, the findings of the 215 bodies outside of the Kamloops residential schools, inspired myself to change the direction of the documentary. I decided to focus more on the process that GGFN reserve’s undertaking of a ground search outside of the local residential school; to see if there were any unmarked graves or bodies buried there.
Over the past year, I have made three trips to GGFN to obtain footage of the community’s initial activities related to the ground search of the area. Aside from the footage of the community, I also have compiled interviews from GGFN members, and other Indigenous people, including leaders and Elders, that have shared their own narratives and experience with residential schools. The budget that I was provided by the grant I received was allocated to travel costs associated with these trips to GGFN, along with the rental of video technological equipment, necessary to create the documentary. I have spent time and effort into producing this documentary and have been promoting it through various online platforms, along with connections I have within Indigenous communities, both urban and rural. I have much interest in public showings of this documentary, particularly since June is coming up, with it being National Indigenous Peoples month. One showing that I have confirmed is the first week of June; at Fort Calgary. Although I am quite excited for the interest and opportunities, I would like to honour my home community and acknowledge the stories that are compiled in my documentary, by having the first public showing of “They Found Us” on GGFN.
In order for myself to bring the documentary to GGFN I am requesting funds to support my travel, accommodation and honorarium for traditional drummers and possibly a dancer to create a healing and culturally safe space for a community show. My first showing that I have booked for this documentary is June 4, 2022, thus, I am asking to have funds to showcase the documentary on GGFN prior to this date.
History of involvement of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Friends
My relative, Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos, created “They Found Us”. It’s a documentary about the search for unmarked graves at our rez, George Gordon First Nation. I hope we can bring it here to Iowa in the near future. My cousin Janna Pratt is featured in the film.
“I thought it would be important to document these searches and capture some of the stories told by members that were forced to go to these institutions. It’s a first hand look into some of the experiences survived in residential school.”
The film delves into members’ recollections along with the process towards the first ground search of Gordon Residential School before Ground Penetration Radar (GPR) in 2021. This is only the beginning…
I want to say thank you to Jeff Kisling and the Iowa Quaker community for the donation that will help get the film seen. If others would like to help support this work, hit me up.
Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss
During the 2017 annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) there was panel discussion about building bridges with native peoples. The panel consisted of Peter Clay, an Iowa Friend, Donnielle Wanatee from the Meskwaki Settlement, and Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss, one of the most active Indigenous leaders in the Midwest. All three have played a large role in my connections with Native Americans since.
In February 2018, I was part of a group who went to Minneapolis to protest US Bank’s funding of oil pipelines. Sikowis spoke at that gathering.
I began to get to know Sikowis when she and I were among a small group of native and non-native people who walked and camped for eight days along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Iowa Friend Peter Clay was also on this First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. Jon Krieg (AFSC) joined us for the first day. And my Scattergood School roommate Lee Tesdell participated in one of the evening discussions during the March. Another Iowa Yearly Meeting Friend, Liz Oppenheimer, organized a time of worship sharing and prayer among Friends each morning, supporting our sacred journey.
Last year I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The committee had a small budget to support organizations doing justice work. Last year we were led to a choice of rather than giving token amounts to a number of organizations, to instead see if an opportunity arose to give the entire budget to make an impact on the work that presented itself. I believe because of our discussions about the residential schools, Sikowis asked if Quakers could support showings of the film “They Found Us” that had been made about the residential school of her nation, the George Gordon First Nation. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee gladly agreed to donate our budget to this.
What follows is a history of the development of relationships among people of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) and some Quakers in the Midwest. I’ve had a lifelong concern for our environment and always wanted to learn more about Indigenous peoples and their spiritual and sustainable ways of living. But I hadn’t known how to make that happen. My intention in writing this is to share my recent experiences, and show various ways I’ve found to make such connections, so you might make your own.
Friends are involved with Indigenous peoples in a number of ways in the Midwest. Many members of my Quaker meeting have been involved in the annual Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke celebration at the Kuehn Conservation Area for many years. Other Friends have lobbied legislators. Friends are involved with Friends Peace Team’s program Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples.
The reason for my focus on the Great Plains Action Society is because of the many friends I have there, and the many wonderful things they do. Things I have been led to join in, when appropriate for a white person.
As a Quaker I know that everything is grounded in faith and I believed that was true for Indigenous peoples, too. I was truly blessed when opportunities started to appear about seven years ago that began to teach me about these things. What follows is an account of how I have been led on this journey thus far.
[NOTE: this is not about calling attention to myself. At the end of this post is a statement about humility.]
Fundamentally, relationships can only be made by spending a lot of time together over an extended period. And only when this is something you are led to do. It doesn’t work if you are only doing this out of a sense of obligation and/or not able or willing to spend a lot of time in the endeavor. And White people, such as I, must constantly guard against bringing along an attitude of White superiority. I find it helpful to try to move outside myself, to evaluate the situation I’m in and what I’m doing from a distance. The less we say and the more deeply we listen, the better. You will often feel vulnerable. That’s part of the process, how you grow, and how relationships deepen.
It is urgent now to develop relationships to support each other as environmental devastation will continue to collapse economic, political, and social systems. The only choices will be to return to Indigenous ways or violent tribalism.
Damage to Mother Earth from extreme extractive industries and fossil fuel infrastructure is a focus of much of the work of Indigenous peoples, and of the new coalition, the Buffalo Rebellion. It is because of these shared concerns that I began to make connections. I was trained as an Action Lead in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013 and have been involved in resistance to the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Coastal Gaslink pipelines. And now against carbon (CO2) pipelines.
The concept of truthsgiving is why I’m writing this extended article. To share the truths that I have been learning. My intention is to show the variety of ways we can become involved, or more involved, in building relationships with native peoples. And to show the reasons why the Mutual Aid work that has been my focus for the past three years is so important.
It is time for Quakers, for everyone to acknowledge the atrocities of the Indian Boarding Schools. Which must begin with truth telling. “The Truth will not be Whitewashed” calls out those, not only many Quakers but most White people who don’t want to face these truths. Locating the remains of thousands of children on the grounds of Indian Boarding Schools in this country and Canada is bringing attention to these atrocities. And opening wounds.
Truthsgiving is a concept of my friend, Sikowis Nobiss, who is the founder of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS). GPAS created the website TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be Whitewashed. The Truthsgiving Collective includes GPAS, Des Moines Mutual Aid, and others.
Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology—not a name switch so we can keep doing the same thing. It’s about telling and doing the truth on this day so we can stop dangerous stereotypes and whitewashed history from continuing to harm Indigenous lands and Peoples, as well as Black, Latinx, Asian-American and all oppressed folks on Turtle Island.
Mutual Aid comes up frequently in these stories because this is the framework to escape the colonial capitalist system that is oppressing all of us now. Mutual Aid communities exist all over. You can search for “mutual aid” on the Internet and social media platforms. The website Iowa Mutual Aid Network is an excellent resource. https://iowamutualaid.org/
Dean Spade has written an excellent book, Mutual Aid, Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And the Next).
Mutual Aid is important because it provides an alternative to the capitalism and white superiority that mainstream society is built upon. Mutual aid can help us Walk a Path of Doing the Truth as my friend Ronnie James wrote in “Doing Truth When the World is Upside Down.”
Mutual Aid is important because it truly builds community. These are troubled times with many people in despair, feeling hopeless. Mutual Aid communities help people help each other and restore a sense of self-worth. Opportunities to make a difference.
I’ve often written about my first meeting with Ronnie James as being Spirit led. February 2020, I posted an event to support the Wet’suwet’en peoples who were trying to stop a pipeline from being built through their territory. I didn’t expect anyone to attend who wasn’t already involved in this issue. Thank God, literally, Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer, saw the event and joined us. He was surprised anyone beyond those he knew was aware of the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en. That meeting changed my life. It makes me sad to think I would have missed everything that came from this meeting if it had not occurred.
Queries about Mutual Aid
How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
Do we provide for everyone’?
What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
What systems of dominance, of vertical hierarchies are we involved in?
Do we work to ensure there aren’t vertical hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?
There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.
Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.
What follows are some of my stories about how such relationships developed. It takes time to build these relationships, which is why it is important to begin now.
I begin with some general guidelines that I, as a White person, have learned about making connections with communities of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).
This graphic summarizes some of what I have learned from my own experience. I learned much of this during the years I spent in the Kheprw Institute youth mentoring community in Indianapolis. A community of people of color. And these guidelines have been very helpful in the context of the last five years as I was led to connect with my Indigenous friends.
From that initial meeting, Ronnie and I began to exchange text messages. Related to “don’t be a burden”, text messaging is far less intrusive than phone conversations, for example.
Do NOT ask or expect to be taught
This can be one of those gray areas. There is a difference between expecting to be taught and accepting what someone is offering to teach you. Ronnie was/is very generous with his time and encouragement. He is what I would call a very effective organizer. He recognized our Wet’suwet’en vigil would be a chance to find allies for the work he does. Since then, I’ve seen how often, and how well he writes to educate others. And he always shows up. In the nearly three years I’ve known him, he and I have rarely missed being at our weekly food giveaway. And those times when he isn’t there, it is often because of other things related to his activism. He is involved in many things besides our food project.
Listen deeply-this is how you learn
Think about what is being said. Learn the language, so to speak. Pay attention to body language and facial expressions. This is hard when people are wearing face masks, which are always required at our food project. No face mask, no participation. This is done to reduce the chance of any of us passing the virus on to others.
Observe common tasks and help do them. For example, every Saturday morning tables need to be set up outside, where the food boxes will be put for distribution. So do that if there is idle time. You don’t need to ask for permission. It is expected that you will use your own initiative. Because of everyone being aware of what needs to be done, and doing it, our work is done really efficiently. As Ronnie says, at the end of the hour you will be tired, sweaty and felling good. And that’s true.
Do NOT offer suggestions/leadership until invited to do so
It can take a long time (months) to understand all that is involved in the work you are participating in. It has taken a lot of work, trial and error, for those involved in the community you are connecting with to get things to function well.
The rest of the list is self-explanatory. Accepting being vulnerable is likely the most difficult part of this. You are being vulnerable just by doing what it takes to join in the work, to show up. When uncomfortable things happen, they are often not your fault. Try not to take things personally.
Great Plains Action Society and Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
A number of Friends (Quakers) in the Midwest have had opportunities to work with the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) and the people who are part of that organization. My first connection was being present at a panel discussion at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) about building bridges with Native Americans in 2017. Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss, Donnielle Wanatee and Peter Clay were on the panel. (See: Iowa Panel Looks at Building Bridges with Native Americans | American Friends Service Committee)
Great Plains Action Society (GPAS)
Sikowis was involved in Indigenous Iowa, and Seeding Sovereignty, then moved on to establish the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS). My friends Ronnie James, Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer, Mahmud Fitil, Regina Tsosie, Foxy and Alton Onefeather, and Jessica Engelking are among the people of GPAS.
I only mention that I took this photo as an example of building relationships. With time, people learn what you have to offer. During the Buffalo Rebellion Climate Conference we were all attending, there was a spontaneous opportunity for a group photo of GPAS. I was glad to be asked to take the photo.
Resist and Indigenize
GPAS started to build in 2014 and became an official non-profit in 2017 with two full-time staff, two part-time staff, and two youth interns. Founder, Sikowis Nobiss, who started organizing over twenty-five years ago during the Burnt Church Indigenous fisheries crisis in New Brunswick, Canada, saw that Iowa needed more Indigenous voices to speak up for the Earth. During the NoDAPL resistance movement in 2016, she created a platform for Great Plains Action Society to empower Indigenous voices in Iowa concerning extreme resource extraction perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry. During this fight, GPAS worked tirelessly in both Iowa and North Dakota, bridging the gap between Indigenous communities and rural landowners. This led GPAS to form Little Creek Camp, an Indigenous-led resistance hub in Iowa and to finally register as a 501(c)4 that is 100% Indigenous run. Our efforts have truly brought the voice and actions of Indigenous Peoples to the forefront of Iowa’s climate movement, which is much needed in the most biologically colonized state in the country and the number one contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico due to colonial-capitalist farming practices. By uplifting traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge, we are making it clear that Iowa needs to rematriate prairie, bring back first foods and increase Indigenous land stewardship.
“We are a collective of Indigenous organizers of the Great Plains working to resist and Indigenize colonial institutions, ideologies, and behaviors. Our homelands are located in the vast grassland of Turtle Island, situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River and stretching from the Northern Tundra to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Great Plains Action Society Mission Statement
Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change.
Gatherings and actions
What follows is a history of my experiences with my Indigenous friends. Although each episode is with at least one person who is part of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), many are not official GPAS actions or events.
US Bank, Super Bowl weekend, 2/3/2018
February 3, 2018, Super Bowl weekend, Ed Fallon organized a van trip to Minneapolis to call attention to USBank’s funding of fossil fuel projects. USBank’s headquarters are in Minneapolis, and the game was played at the USBank stadium. Sikowis, Donnielle, Trisha and I were among those who attended.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives MMIR
One lesson I learned from the trip to Minneapolis was to be aware of the interrelationships among justice issues. The epidemic of the kidnapping and murder of Indigenous women, men and children is something I had not known about prior to getting to know native people. But this happens to a shocking number of people. I heard a story about a family member from a new friend on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.
This is yet another consequence of building pipelines. Many are built near native lands–another example of environmental racism. The “man camps” of pipeline construction workers are thus found near native lands. Adding to the problem was that native law enforcement could not arrest nonnative people. Recent Federal legislation that several of us lobbied for has changed that.
When in Minneapolis, Sikowis Nobiss and Donnielle Wanatee both spoke about MMIR. During the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Foxy Onefeather carried this sign.
This spring, MMIR was part of a GPAS rally for reproductive justice.
This sign was erected at the event, with the Wells Fargo Arena in the background. Wells Fargo is one of the banks that fund pipelines.
September 1 – 8, 2018, Sikowis, Donnielle, Trisha, Mahmud, Regina, Peter Clay (Iowa Quaker) and I and others participated in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. We walked and camped together from Des Moines to Fort Dodge (ninety-four miles) along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Some Iowa Quakers had worship sharing each morning of the March to support us. Also, each evening there was a discussion on various topics. My friend and Scattergood Friends School schoolmate and member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), Lee Tesdell, talked about his progressive agricultural practices. Sikowis had something to say about Indigenous agriculture.
The purpose of the March was to create a community of native and non-native people who began to know and trust each other so we could work on things of common concern. That was really successful, and we have done many things together since.
One of the first was when several of us from the March, including Sikowis (in the center of this photo), Iowa Quakers Shazi and Fox Knight, and I lobbied Senator Grassley’s staff to support several bills related to native concerns.
Sunrise, Green New Deal, Des Moines, 2019
The Sunrise Movement was launched as a national campaign for a Green New Deal (GND) in 2017. From the beginning I heard my native friends talk about the importance of a GND to be Indigenous led. In 2019 Sunrise’s Green New Deal tour began with a stop in Des Moines. There my friends Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer and Lakasha Yooxot Likipt spoke about Indigenous leadership as a requirement for a GND.
National Network Assembly, summer 2019
The summer of 2019 Sikowis suggested I attend the National Network Assembly at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa, that she helped organize. I was aware that if I wanted to build on relationships with native peoples, I should respond when invited to do something like this. I don’t usually attend conferences, but seeing this as one of those opportunities, I did attend. And I got a lot out of it. This was a conference for justice organizers.
As I began to discuss above, in early 2020, I began to hear about the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en peoples in British Columbia, as they worked to prevent the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline (Costal GasLink) through their pristine lands and waters. There was little being written about this in the mainstream media, so supporters were asked to write about what was happening on our social media platforms.
This photo is from a post about a rally I organized to support the Wet’suwet’en in Des Moines on February 7, 2020. Iowa Friend Peter Clay attended.
As I wrote earlier, I’m sure my meeting with Ronnie James was spirit-led. We’ve become good friends in the three years since this Wet’Suwet’en rally. Ronnie is one of the people involved in GPAS, the person who leads the Mutual Aid efforts.
We are both at the food project almost every Saturday morning. Although it doesn’t take much space here, DMMA is the focus of my justice work. And I have found it to be healing. At the end of this is A Love Letter to Y’all about the work of DMMA.
As often happens, once people know I love photography, I get invited to events for that purpose (even though I’d want to go, anyway). This photo of Sikowis was taken at last year’s Indigenous People’s Day. She’s holding a Great Plains Action Society bag.
“Fourth of He Lies” (annual)
Another event where I took photos was a gathering on the State Capitol grounds related to racist statues. On July 4th, 2020 and 2021 we gathered for the “Fourth of He Lies”. In this photo on one of those days, Sikowis is speaking at the Pioneer statue. Ronnie James and Donnielle Wanatee also attended.
December 2021 Summit Carbon pipeline
Last December, Sikowis asked me to come to Ames to take photos of a rally at the office of Summit Carbon, one of the companies that want to build a CO2 pipeline.
I’m blessed to have been invited to join the newly formed Buffalo Rebellion, a new coalition of Iowa organizations that are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. Peter Clay, my friend and also a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was also invited.
Buffalo Rebellion is a new coalition of Iowa organizations that are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. The Earth Day Rally will be an afternoon of honoring Mother Earth through sharing stories and visions for climate justice and taking action together for a world that puts people and the planet before profits for a few.
Following the Earth Day Rally, Buffalo Rebellion will be holding two days of immersive training to develop 100 grassroots leaders who will build local teams to take on climate justice issues in their community and come together to create a thriving state-wide movement.
Formed in 2021, Buffalo Rebellion is comprised of seven Iowa organizations: Great Plains Action Society, DSM Black Liberation Movement, Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement, SEIU Local 199, and Iowa CCI.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI)
Iowa Citizens for Community improvement is very active in environmental and many other concerns and a member of the Buffalo Rebellion. “We talk, we act, we get it done” is their motto. I’ve participated in several environment related actions led by my friend Jake Grobe, ICCI’s Climate Justice Organizer. He has focused on getting MidAmerican Energy to close their five coal burning plants in Iowa. And Jake is very active in the resistance to carbon (CO2) pipelines.
This is a photo I took of Sikowis and Jake at this summer’s Earth Day Rally in Des Moines. After the speakers we marched to the offices of MidAmerican Energy.
In an example of interconnections, the mural below is by GPAS and made during the First Nation Farmer-Climate Unity March in 2018. In another connection, Jake often comes to our Mutual Aid food project.
The Buffalo Rebellion coalition in action
The resistance to carbon pipelines continues. This flyer and the photo I took below are about an action by the Buffalo Rebellion at the time a national meeting of those promoting carbon pipelines was occurring in Des Moines. In the photo Jake is speaking using a bullhorn, in the street that we blocked temporarily to call attention to the pipeline meeting. He said these people (in the cars) are impatient and angry, but we’re angry and inpatient, too, at the decades of inaction to respond to climate devastation.
Forced Assimilation/Indian Boarding Schools and Quakers
One of the tensions between Indigenous peoples and Quakers is the tragic history of forced assimilation of over 100,000 native children in the Indian residential schools. And the deaths and abuses that occurred there. Some Friends were involved in such schools. Several times I was led to speak about this with Sikowis, Ronnie and other Indigenous friends. We could not develop much of a relationship if this went unacknowledged. It is important to not do this until you have a relationship with who you talk to about this.
This became personal when one of my friends introduced me to his teenage son. I could not imagine the conversations they must have had about forced assimilation. Continue to have as the remains of thousands of children are located on the grounds of so many of the sites of forced assimilation.
Last year I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The committee had a small budget to support organizations doing justice work. Last year we were led to a choice of rather than giving token amounts to a number of organizations, to instead see if an opportunity arose to give the entire budget to make an impact on the work that presented itself. I believe because of our discussions about the residential schools, Sikowis asked if Quakers could support showings of the film “They Found Us” that had been made about the residential school of her nation, the George Gordon First Nation. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee gladly agreed to donate our budget to this. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/04/13/they-found-us/
Great Plains Action Society has felt this pain firsthand, as many of our close family members attended these schools, and we are rising to meet the needs of our communities. Last year, in Sioux City, we hosted a large community feast and ceremony to honor nine children whose bodies were reMatriated back to Sicangu Oyate lands from the grounds of the Carlisle Boarding School. We have also raised funds to help one of our relatives, Curt Young, show his film, They Found Us, about the search for children’s bodies at the George Gordon First Nation. If we can raise enough funding, we would like to get his film shown throughout Iowa and the Midwest.
A fundamental principle of justice work is to make sure that your (i.e. ally) work is directed by those impacted by injustice. “Nothing about us without us.” Great Plains Action Society’s Open Letter Campaign is such an opportunity, an invitation for non native peoples to support their work.
Resolutions are not just for January! As we are gathering momentum for the daunting work 2022 has in store for us, we would like to invite you to join us in ushering in a New Year/New Iowa. Things need to change. The harm we are doing to the environment is devastating. The attack on truth in public education is a contributing factor to our attempted erasure. The ongoing use of racist mascots harms children, and perpetuates dehumanization. Iowa has a lot of issues. The work we need to do to make Iowa better is not going to be easy. But it can be done, and the best chance we have is working together. And that is why we are coming to you with our Open Letter Campaign.
Over the course of 2022, we will be sharing with you Open Letters we’re addressing to those who are in positions of power. We’re doing this in the format of an Open Letter for a few reasons. First, these issues are important, and this is an opportunity to explain the issues to a broader audience. The more people who understand what is going on, the better. Second, we need numbers. We are mighty, but we are few. The more people we have putting pressure on those with power, the more likely we are to see results. And finally, it’s something that you can do that doesn’t require much of you. Although it’s only February, 2022 can already feel exhausting. The thought of having to leave home to do things can be overwhelming, even frightening as COVID is still a very real threat. But this is something you can do from home, without investing energy you are probably running low on. Working with us can be as simple as tweeting out a hashtag. But it can be more too, if you’d like. It’s an opportunity to write the words that express your frustration and join them in an agitated choir. This is a chance to remind yourself that you deserve to be heard and that you are capable of taking action that affects change.
We have always appreciated when allies and accomplices approach us to ask how they can be of help. Things can be complicated, and it is considerate to be mindful of how one engages. This is absolutely a situation that we request your help with. We need your voices to make something happen. Our land, our water, our children are under attack. The truth is under attack. We need to stand strong together to create the change that so desperately needs to happen. This Open Letter Campaign is a means for us to unite our voices to call for change. You are welcome to use the words we share, or to express your own. If all you have it in you to do is share an article or use a hashtag, every little bit helps. If you have letters of your own you’d wish to share with us, we’d love to hear from you! Again, we look forward to putting our voices together with you, to call for the New Year/New Iowa we so desperately need. Thank you.
The New year, New Iowa Open Letter Campaign is led by Jessica Engelking. If you have ideas or thoughts to share, please contact her at email@example.com
We look forward to putting our voices together with you, to call for the New Year/New Iowa we so desperately need. Thank you.
Jessica Engelking of the Great Plains Action Society is the contact person for the Open Letters campaign. Fortunately, I met Jessica when we both attended the Buffalo Rebellion Climate Justice Summit this summer. A lot of networking occurred at the summit.
When she asked what Quakers were doing related to the Indian Boarding Schools, I was very glad to share the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s letter writing tools. And specifically, to the one to support the establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools. This became one of the Open Letters of the GPAS.
Support the Establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools: Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
As children are returning to school, we are reminded that school has not always been a safe place for Native children. For many years, Native children were taken from their homes and placed in government and religious run institutions with the aim of stripping away their Native language, culture, and identity. We are only now beginning the painful process of bringing home the children left in unmarked graves at the boarding schools they were sent to (U.S. report identifies burial sites linked to boarding schools for Native Americans). We are still working on healing the damage of boarding school and intergenerational trauma (American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many : NPR). Healing from the damage caused by the boarding school system will require effort by not just those harmed, but the institutions that did the harming. There is great work being done by our comrades at the Friends Committee On National Legislation (Native Americans | Friends Committee On National Legislation). For this edition of our Open Letter Campaign, we are directing you to a letter from our friends at FCNL to help you in urging your representatives to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).
The following is courtesy our much appreciated Quaker friends
As another way to encourage the passage of this legislation, David and Jean Hansen of Ames Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and my friend activist Rodger Routh, and I went to the Des Moines office of US Senator Joni Ernst. Jessica Engelking of the GPAS had planned to attend but was unable to do so.
Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change. We believe that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antitheses of colonial capitalism, and we deploy these tools to fight and build on our vision–tools that are deeply embedded in a culture of resistance.
Indigenous Peoples in the US and around the world have created a culture of resistance, built on the frontlines, that is now a way of life. It can be found in our dancing, singing, clothing, art, and in our political motivations. For instance, the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) song was created out of the Red Power Movement and is sung at many of our cultural events and in our movement spaces, which are often one and the same. It began with the need to protect our homes and way of life from settler invaders, colonial militias, and imperialist governments. There is over a 500-year history of Indigenous resistance to the violent nature of colonial-capitalist genocidal and extractive practices. As stewards of the land, our ancestors saw right away that settler invaders, who were directly harming us, were also harming the environment and throwing the ecosystem off balance. The resistance is ongoing as long as genocide and colonization are perpetuated by the nation-state and its settler citizens. To be in a constant state of resistance is traumatic, hence why we suffer from intergenerational and historical trauma. Yet, it is necessary to protect our land, our people, and our ways from colonial-capitalist forces.
I’ve been working on this graphic for several years, to visualize the connections I see. Mutual Aid and the Buffalo Rebellion are part of this.
A Love Letter to Y’all (a thread)
One year ago yesterday Des Moines Mutual Aid participated in a march protesting the potential for war or increased hostilities with Iran that followed the fallout of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani by drone strike in Baghdad.
This was our first “public” event since adopting the name Des Moines Mutual Aid, a name we gave our crew during our growing work with our relatives at the houseless camps throughout the city and our help with coordinating a weekly free grocery store that has a 50 year history, founded by the Des Moines Chapter of The Black Panther Party For Self Defense.
A year ago we started laying the foundation for work we had no idea what was coming.
As we were adjusting our work with the camps and grocery re-distribution in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, both that continued to grow in need and importance, the police continued their jobs and legacy of brutality and murder.
This nation exploded in righteous rage in response to the pig murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
DMMA realized we were in a position to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail, both to keep the streets alive as a new phase of The Movement was being born, and because jails are a hotspot of Covid-19 spread.
Not to mention the racial and economic oppression that is the cash bail system.
In the past year DMMA has expanded it’s work in multiple directions and gained many partners and allies.
We partnered with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM) to create the DSM BLM Rent Relief initiative to help keep families in their homes in the midst of a pandemic and the winter.
The camp work has grown exponentially, but is being managed with our collaboration with Edna Griffin Mutual Aid (@egma_dsm), DSM Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM), and The Great Plains Action Society (@PlainsAction).
The bail fund remains successful because of desire from the public and a partnership with Prairielands Freedom Fund (@prairielandsff) (formerly The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project).
The weekly free food store has maintained itself, carrying on the legacy it inherited.
Every one of our accomplishments are directly tied to the support of so many people donating time, talent, and funds to the work. We are overwhelmed with all of your support and hope you feel we are honoring what we promised.
All of these Mutual Aid projects are just a few of many that this city has created in the last year in response to the many crises we face, not only confronting the problems and fulfilling the needs directly in front of us, but creating a sustainable movement that will be capable of responding to what’s next and shaping our collective futures as we replace the systems that fail us.
These last 12 months have been wild and a real test of all of our capabilities to collectively organize.
But it is clear that we as a city have what it takes to do what is needed in 2021, no matter what crisis is next.
We need to be careful when we talk about humility. The kind of humility this work brings isn’t the kind that would have us reject or repress our gifts. This kind of false humility leads us to oppress each other in the name of preventing pridefulness. This happens far too often. Real, life-giving humility means living up to the light that we have been given without judgment of how bright or dim that light is. False humility is hiding this light under a bushel for fear of jealousy or judgment. The challenge is to be faithful right where we are—no more, no less. This takes courage. To be faithful, we have to make space.
Sadly, but importantly, white settler colonists such as me, at least those paying attention, are learning a great deal about the genocide of native peoples, in large part facilitated by the institutions of forced assimilation. Sometimes referred to as Indian boarding or residential schools, though school is a misnomer, an example of whitewashing. The remains of thousands of native children are being located on the grounds of these institutions in this country and Canada.
The following was written by my friend Sikowis Nobiss.
There are many settler colonial mythologies about Native Americans. These widely held but false beliefs are rooted in deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes and behaviors that are perpetuated by institutionalized racism. One of the most celebrated mythologies is the holiday of Thanksgiving, which is believed, since 1621, to be a mutually sanctioned gathering of “Indians” and Pilgrims. The truth is far from the mythos of popular imagination. The real story is one where settler vigilantes unyieldingly pushed themselves into Native American homelands, and forced an uneasy gathering upon the locals.
In the words of Wamsutta Frank James, Wampanoag, “the Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors, and stolen their corn, wheat, and beans.” These words came from his 1970 Thanksgiving Day speech, which he wrote for the annual celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims held every year in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, this speech was never presented; the organizers of the celebration reportedly asked to see his speech ahead of time, according to James’ obituary in theBoston Globe, and allegedly asked him to rewrite it on the basis that his words were not aligned with the popular mythology. He instead declared Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning.
“The following resources are available so that folks can learn more about Indigenous perspectives on Thanksgiving, the land they live on, how to be a good ally, and how they can decolonize their minds in order to abolish personal and institutionalized white supremacy.” https://www.truthsgiving.org/resources
For many years I’ve been praying, thinking, writing, and discussing how we can prepare for an increasingly dystopian future. In an article in Friends Journal, Donald McCormick asks “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?” I wrote about my vision in the article What is your vision for the future?
The increasing threats from environmental devastation and chaos lead me to share more of my vision, which has been evolving over the past several years. It’s taken me a long time to write this article, I think because I haven’t found resources available to check on what I’m saying here.
I’ve always believed the greatest problem to solve is how communities of the future organize and govern themselves. We’ll have to do things differently because our present systems are collapsing. Which is often not a bad thing since those systems are based on colonialism and capitalism.
Spirituality is especially important now as we experience increasing environmental chaos, which will contribute to further social, economic, and political collapse. We will have no choice but to band together for the survival of us all. The alternative is tribalism with its violence, destruction and death.
We will need the help of those who know survival skills that we don’t. It takes time to build the trust necessary for these connections. It is urgent to do this now. It is by the Spirit that we can engage with everyone around us, of all cultures, identities, ethnicities.
Spirituality can show us how to live with integrity now. How to be examples to others. This is how change happens.
The Creator can help us heal the wounds of the past. And the wounds that will be inflicted in the future.
The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.
At my first meeting with the KI community, I was asked a number of questions. When I said I was a Quaker, one of the adults (the group was mainly teenagers) spoke about the history of Quakers related to the underground railroad. When she finished, all eyes turned to me. I said I was glad my ancestors did that, it was the right thing to do, but we try not to take credit for things we have not done ourselves. When I was asked to speak more about that, I wasn’t sure what to say. I remember clearly that an answer came from the Spirit, which told me to not only say that Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, but to also look into the eyes of each one there and say, “and that includes you”. Each person smiled at me when I did that. That ended the questioning, and I was welcomed into the community. We had this spiritual basis for our work together.
But that was just the first step. Trust was built, but slowly. With permission, I invited members of my Quaker community to engage with KI’s monthly book discussions. This was one way we began to get to know each other. But it was two years after this introduction before I was invited to teach a class on photography for KI.
First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March
Because of my lifelong commitment to care for our environment, I’d always wanted to learn about Indigenous peoples and their sustainable lives. I jumped at the opportunity to do so when I heard about theFirst Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in 2018. The intention was to build a community of native and nonnative people by walking and camping together along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (94 miles). Many long hours walking together, for eight days, along empty Iowa gravel roads was very effective in creating the beginnings of trust. There were about fifteen native and fifteen nonnative people, which allowed each of us the opportunity to share stories with every other person.
I’d hoped there would be ways to learn more about their spirituality, and to share some about my own. But I knew there was a huge barrier between us related to Friends’ involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children. It is uncomfortable to admit this, but at the time I wondered how much awareness there was about the Indian Boarding Schools. I was soon to learn how profound that trauma was, and how it was passed from generation to generation. Is a deep wound today in every Indigenous person I know. I discuss this in detail in White Quakers and Native Peoples and other writings.
I didn’t know if, or how, the occasion might occur to talk about this during the March. Or whether I should.
But I vividly remember when the Spirit told me to say, “I know Quakers were involved in the Indian boarding schools and I’m sorry that happened” to the native person I was getting to know the best early in the March. I was worried saying that would upset him, open wounds. But he just nodded his head, and we kept walking together. But later in the day he said, “I want to tell you a story”, and proceeded to tell me a story related to him and his mother and the boarding schools.
At various times the Spirit led me to bring this up with each of my native friends. Every one of them and their families have had traumatic experiences related to forced assimilation. And the removal of native children from their homes continues in the guise of child welfare.
This is something that should not be taken lightly. A certain level of connection and trust is important. This is not about us (White people) and what we would like to see or do. There should be clear spiritual guidance.
I’ve found my Indigenous friends to be deeply spiritual. I like the sign, Earth is my church, carried by my friends Foxy and Alton Onefeather during the March. That says a lot about why I feel my friends are spiritual, their reverence of all things human and nonhuman. And their practices such as smudging, putting down tobacco, expressing thanks to the Creator each time they speak in public. Their humbleness. One friend often says “we are just pitiful people” during her prayers.
In the four years since that March, various combinations of us have had numerous opportunities to work together.
And yet again, that trust has been built, is being built slowly.
Quakers believe our lives must be guided by the Spirit. But far too often people haven’t found, or don’t try to discern that spiritual guidance. They try to figure out how to do justice work on their own or in conjunction with like-minded people. with the best of intentions. That phrase usually indicates not listening to those affected by injustice. And indicates not having discerned what their faith is trying to tell them.
And that often results in unintended, harmful consequences. A common phrase to keep in mind is nothing about us without us. This is especially challenging for White people who are accustomed to their privileges. Often not even aware of those privileges. We would not need to qualify what our intentions were if we were following the leadership of the communities facing injustice.
One horrific example of best intentions gone wrong were the Indian boarding schools. A policy of forced assimilation of native children into White culture was thought by many to be a way to help Indian children adjust to the enveloping White society. But tens of thousands of children suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Thousands died. Genocide. And that trauma has been passed to each following generation, including todays. Every one of my native friends has been affected.
This is an example of difficulties in making connections between different communities and/or cultures. With this horrific history, and ongoing trauma, how can a bridge ever be built between these two cultures, White and Indigenous? Or between White and BIPOC people and communities? (Black, Indigenous and other people of color)
But for others, especially in the government and military, this policy and horror was exactly what they intended.
The Spirit also led me to become involved in a Mutual Aid community. And led me to be involved in efforts to abolish police and prisons. I’ve written extensively about these things on my website Quakers and Religious Socialism, Intersection of Mutual Aid, Abolition and Socialism.
How to create connections between different communities or cultures
Returning to Donald McCormick’s question, “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?” I’ve tried to express my answer here. In these increasingly trying times, spiritual guidance is crucial. Sharing this with others is a gift Quakers have to offer. But we need to understand the history and concepts of oppression. Of Quakers’ role in oppression. And discern how the Spirit is leading us.
Frontline communities are figuring out how to live when the systems that are supposed to serve them no longer do, if they ever did. White communities will look to these communities and their solutions for our own survival.
I was recently surprised when a Quaker friend said I had a way of finding and connecting with oppressed communities. Which made me realize something I hadn’t expressed before, which is we must seek out these communities ourselves. Be guided to these communities by the Spirit. Search for these opportunities. Searching social media is usually very useful. And we can learn what our Friends and friends are doing and join those efforts.
Following is a list of things I have been learning from my experiences related to making connections between different communities and/or cultures.
[My foundational stories are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography.]
I’ve been praying and struggling for many days to discern how to express the state of my Quaker faith today. Quakerism is the faith community I was born into and have remained in. I was raised in a White Quaker family and community. I had a Spiritual experience at the Bear Creek Meetinghouse when I was about ten years old, an experience that I have drawn upon for the rest of my life. I attended Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker high school, and Earlham College, a Quaker institution.
One of the reasons I accepted the challenge of reflecting on my foundational stories is because of my crisis of faith now.
I think it is common for people to be disappointed by their faith community at various times, for a variety of reasons. That has been true for me. Coming of age during the Vietnam War I wished more young men had resisted the draft. I wish we all had done more to reign in the use of fossil fuels. And that White people like myself had worked, harder to acknowledge our complicity in the oppression of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), of various gender identities, and certain social and economic classes. I wish we were working harder now on acknowledging and trying to heal these injustices.
This country was built on the historical injustices of the institution of slavery, and the genocide and removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands. And the forced assimilation of native children in institutions where they were often physically and sexually abused, where thousands of children were killed or died.
Many people, including Quakers today question how complicit our ancestors were in these injustices. There were White Quakers who were involved in the slave trade, and who enslaved Black men, women, and children. Our ancestors were settler colonists. As are we who are now living on these lands. Quakers were involved in the Indian residential schools.
These issues often generate significant emotional responses. I don’t have all the answers. But I have had spiritual and community experiences that I am led to speak and work from today. Many of these experiences have led me to understand we are living in a country, a society of structural racism and white superiority. As much as many of us White Quakers wish it weren’t so, our skin color automatically gives us many significant advantages in this country.
Our mainstream social, economic, and political systems are predicated on White superiority and dominance. I say mainstream because many people, including myself, are building alternative systems today. I’ve been deeply involved in Mutual Aid for a couple of years and believe this to be part of the answer. Mutual Aid is included in the following graphics.
NOTE: White supremacy is different from white superiority. “White supremacy or white supremacism is the belief that white people are superior to those of other races and thus should dominate them.”
I’ve also seen in the lives of my friends what I once thought of as isolated historical traumas have been passed from generation to generation. They profoundly affect the lives of people today. What does that mean for White Quakers now?
“…capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous.”
Dean Spade, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 111-121). Verso
Following is another way of looking at the relationships between White settler colonists and Indigenous peoples. White Quakers need to acknowledge that when our ancestors came to these Indigenous lands, they were settler colonists. And since we are still occupying these lands, we are settler colonists, too. Some White Quakers were involved in the forced assimilation of Indigenous children. We are implicated in most of the “negative” things listed below.
Acknowledgement of wrongs is the necessary first step in the healing process.
I’m fortunate to be part of the Buffalo Rebellion, a newly formed Green New Deal coalition in Iowa formed to protect the planet by demanding change from politicians and convincing the public that climate should be a priority. Buffalo Rebellion, is a coalition of grassroots, labor, and climate justice organizations growing a movement to pass local, state, and national policies that create millions of family-sustaining union jobs—ensuring racial and gender equity and taking action on climate at the scale and scope the crisis demands. It was formed in November 2021 and consists of:
The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) has years of experience advocating for legislation related to Native American affairs. Recently FCNL has been supporting legislation to form a Truth and Healing Commission related to the Indian Boarding Schools. I’ve been blessed to have many years of experience with FCNL and have been working with my native friends in creating connections with FCNL, including several visits to our US Senators.
A fundamental principle of justice work is to follow the leadership of those impacted by the injustice. The 7 Weeks of Action for 7 Generations are what Native peoples are asking us to do to help them. This week we are asked to contact US House representatives belonging to the Indigenous Peoples Caucus.
I recently wrote about my friends at the Great Plains Action Society’s (GPAS) Open Letter Campaign: Truth and Healing with Friends. GPAS describes how their supporters can use the Friends Committee on Legislation’s (FCNL) online tools to help people write messages and send them to their representatives. This is a great collaboration between GPAS and FCNL that we can build upon.
Help us bring justice, accountability, awareness, and healing by telling the unvarnished truth about America’s history and genocide committed against Indigenous Peoples by way of Federal Indian boarding school policies. NABS asks us to please call members of the House’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus and request that they bring forward HR. 5444, the Truth and Healing Commission to the floor for a vote #NABS #Time4Justice
MSNBC Symone Sanders, Indigenous Peoples Day NABS Interview
NABS Creative Director Kenrick Escalanti spoke with Symone Sanders of MSNBC today on Indigenous Peoples Day to discus the history of the U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies and what needs to be done to pass House Bill H.R. 5444 and Senate Bill S.2907 the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act.
We are entering week 3 of NABS’s 7 Weeks of Action! We have been receiving positive feedback from your phone calls so please keep making these calls into the Congressional offices. This week we ask you to call into the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to ask them to schedule a markup for S.2907, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools Policies Act.
NABS thanks you for joining us in this advocacy. Together we will get S.2907 /H.R. 5444, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act passed!
Please CALL these Senators Today and Request The SCIA hold a markup session for “S. 2907, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act” so the bill may move forward.
Join NABS in Week 2 of 7 Weeks of Action for 7 Generations, highlighting the need to pass H.R. 5444, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act in the U.S.
Please CALL the Congressional Members listed today and request they bring “H.R. 5444, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act” to the floor for a vote in House and Pass H.R. 5444
NOTE: Please include calls to those who don’t represent your Congressional district. They are making decisions that affect us all.
All of this may be news to you, but for Indigenous people, this report simply confirms painful truths their families have long known. Survivors left these institutions abused, in poor health and without the language and cultural knowledge to connect with the homes they returned to. The way these children were raised in boarding schools — with fear, shame, violence and servitude — was in complete conflict with the way their tribal communities would have raised them; with love, identity and purpose.
In short, the pain of these survivors is the foundation of modern Indigenous life.
This federal policy created generations of trauma that tribes continue to navigate as they reclaim everything these institutions tried to destroy. For every language learner, for every heirloom seed planted, for every newborn receiving a traditional name instead of an English one, there are people struggling with trauma, battling addiction and trying desperately to survive a world that doesn’t fit or understand them.
This is a video my friend Rodger Routh made when he joined a few of us when we spoke to Senator Ernst’s staff recently. Besides making the phone calls listed above, you can request a meeting with the local staff of your representatives.