Members of BYMIAC aim to continue the historic legacy of Quaker-Indian relations as well as support programs and initiatives that are relevant to the needs of contemporary Indians.
1) Looking at your committee description in the BYM Manual of Procedure: What is the most meaningful, enduring or vital part of your committee’s charge? Where is the energy, the Spirit, in it?
Actually the words we like for our Committee’s work are the ones you use in the Invitation: MEANINGFUL, ENDURING, VITAL
Our energy and spirit arise from three sources.
- First, the relationships our members form with individuals who self-identify as American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians. Usually our committee members know Indians. – [Spiritual leaders in Indian Country are highly respected by our committee.]
- Second, our passionate desire for more Quakers to listen and then convey and interpret messages Indians would like for non-Indians to hear.
- Third, our aspiration to influence policy-makers to be just, fair, and compassionate regarding laws, regulations, court decisions, and practices affecting Native Nations and their citizens. – [How to speaking truth to power must be learned. Experienced members nurture newcomers.]
At the end of this document, please see a revised description of our committee. Also see a piece written to explain the larger purpose of the committee, i.e., the rationale for our existence and the importance of our work.
2) How does the Committee seek to accomplish this vital work? What vision does this move us toward?
We seek to accomplish our work by educating ourselves and other Friends on the issues of concern to Native peoples. As an information source, we try to familiarize ourselves about subjects as far reaching as stereotypes, sovereignty, and sweat lodges. Over the years, we have served as a conduit for news between individuals, organizations, and other Yearly Meetings—with the ongoing challenge of how to formalize and expand that role.
Now we want to highlight the little-known presence of Indians in our area. Specifically, we want to establish closer ties with the Indian groups and institutions located in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. In turn, we hope to be an inspiration to our Meetings, stimulating a spirit of empathy and fellowship for Native people of the region, who are our neighbors, and fostering direct links.
We will start the year by sending an announcement about what the Indian Committee is and contact information for the members. We want to raise consciousness of our existence and welcome the participation of others. Next, committee members will compose and circulate a brief Fact Sheet about regional Indian groups, their issues of concern, and Quaker responses and viewpoints (including FCNL’s legislative work). This will be sent to each Meeting Clerk, with a request for feedback from the Meeting community. We hope to engage some members at Meetings in the BYM area who will be receptive to our Committee’s desire for ongoing discussions and activities. We especially want to spark interest in those who have not previously been engaged in Indian affairs and encourage them to become part of the loose Indian-Quaker network. The ideal outcome would be to motivate action.
We envision for the coming year specific outreach activities:
- Organize day tours with members of one or more Meetings to the Indian museum at Indian Point and/or the Baltimore Indian Center, to visit a Virginia tribe, and other such activities. It is likely that one trip will be to Virginia and one to Maryland and the District. Both outings would be preceded by a briefing by FNCL staff engaged in Native policy and legislation at the national level. The field trips/tours will be written up for Interchange.
- Publicize and invite the participation, and pay for registration fee of one or more interested Quaker representatives to attend a National Congress of American Indians conference. The Executive Council Winter Session, held in DC in late February and early March, is particularly informative. It features talks by top officials in the administration. Indian leaders give legislative and policy updates and set priorities for action.
- Encourage a Quaker presence at occasions for cultural sharing and other Indian-sponsored events.
3) What can we do best at this level, rather than at our monthly meetings or through national or international organizations?
There are definite advantages of a regional committee. It is enriching to hear the perspectives and experiences of people from different backgrounds. And it is helpful because Indian needs, groups etc. vary across the region. It can be discouraging that Indian issues are always so low on the agenda of Quaker organizations and Meetings. Coming together as a group and an overarching committee reminds us that some people in other places have an intense interest even if those around us do not. Some things such as adult education, debates, First Day School education on Indians, and letter writing to Congress are best handled at the Monthly Meeting level. We rely on information from national and international groups and representatives. Conversely, they rely on us to share that information and help generate grassroots interest and action.
4) How does the work of your Committee enrich, influence, or change Baltimore Yearly Meeting as a whole? Where do you see that work taking us as a Yearly Meeting?
Indian work is about our witness in the past and about marginalized people in the present who are ignored by most Americans apart from religious organizations. A brief anecdote: The day the new Indian museum opened, thousands of tribal members and indigenous people paraded in ceremonial regalia to the building in celebration. Along the route, spectators took photos and videos. A small group of Quakers stood in one spot holding signs of support saying “Honor the Promises” and “Quakers Support Indian Rights.” Some Indian people left the procession to take pictures. Others waved approval or yelled joyfully, “We know who our friends are!” Will we continue to deserve such appreciation?
Thinking about our Committee’s work could change BYM. It could remind Friends to avoid getting too trendy or obsessed with what is on CNN 24 hours a day and to control our knee jerk reaction to every catastrophe foreign or domestic. Such a pattern can fragment our giving and efforts and make us forget about old commitments and causes. Sometimes it is good to review, to think about Quakers’ special niche or about marginalized people with whom we are the only ones working. What national and regional projects will die without Quaker action (versus which won’t)? If many other national or regional organizations are involved in stopping torture or global warning, what is our special, crucial, “value added” work? We should not continue just to continue. Effectiveness requires deep understanding.
BYM leaders may have little awareness of Indian Country and could benefit by participating in future IAC events or National Congress of American Indians conferences. (When FCNL sponsored a symposium that featured elected Indian leaders and other impressive speakers, some staffers were surprised to realize how much they had fallen into conventional or stereotyped ways of thinking due to lack of direct contact). Although Indians are used to being denigrated and misperceived, Friends are not accused of racism. The willingness of many Indian leaders to trust thoughtful, non-paternalistic Quakers–even to speak in the proper way on their behalf–is based on our long-term commitment. Indian people think in terms of Seven Generations. Respect, deference, and not taking over are essential. Furthermore, a real relationship requires us to learn tribal histories including massacres and about complexities that plague the lives of Indian people. It is based on a willingness to be silent about our own ancestry, especially “Indian princess or Cherokee grandmothers,” and to avoid romanticizing or appropriating their culture.
Finally, those planning BYM “diversity” programs might consider including materials or speakers on Native American concerns as one way to remind Quakers of our earlier witness and engage them today. Many more Friends attend plenary sessions and workshops with a broad diversity, inequality, racism, or genocide theme/agenda than with workshops with an Indian theme. Thus, far more Quakers can be exposed to Indian parallels if Indian affairs experts are included on such panels.
Summary for #4 Our Committee reminds BYM that we have past commitments to honor as we respond to new needs in our area and the world. Most Quakers have little inkling of how much Indian leaders depend on our support and advocacy. However, it is key not to rest on past laurels.