How can Friends be allies with the Native community?
Native organizations most often ask for lobbying support. FCNL’s monthly Native American Legislative Update makes that easy. Some Quakers want to become effective community educators.
While certain topics get lots of attention, we Friends rarely inform ourselves about the lack of basic funding that affects Native families across the country. The National Congress of American Indians publishes an annual report that has facts about issues such as housing, education, or environmental protection.
While certain topics get lots of attention, we Friends rarely inform ourselves about the lack of basic funding that affects Native families across the country.
Nearer to home, I suggest locating your Indian commission; most states have one. If it meets near you, attend a meeting or two. If not, you can get on the mailing list to learn about tribal concerns in your area.
As a way to meet Indigenous leaders and communities, attend talks and events sponsored by tribes or Native groups in your region. In places such as Minnesota, there will be dozens to choose from any month; while in some states, there may only be multiple opportunities in November, which is Native American Heritage Month. By participating often, you will start to connect, if you listen.
What is the Indian Affairs Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM), and what has your role been in it?
At least four Yearly Meetings on the East Coast established Indian Committees as early as 1795, out of concern for tribes’ great peril. Remarkably, those committees continue to this day, acting in support of Native objectives. I have been a clerk and member of Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s committee, which has functioned in a quiet way as a study, educational, and advocacy group.
A surprising number of Friends have volunteered. Since 1940, over 183 individuals have served on the committee representing 39 Monthly Meetings. My book about the recent time period is entitled Respect and Justice for Indigenous Peoples: A Quaker Advocacy Group’s Experience Recounted.
What has the BYM Indian Affairs Committee accomplished?
One important advocacy project was influencing Maryland officials to let inmates who followed a Native spiritual practice exercise their freedom of religion rights, especially to have sweat lodges. Assisting the Monacan Nation to protect its ancient capital was another recent advocacy effort.
The committee has sponsored numerous educational events; has opposed mascots, names, and demeaning sports practices; and has prepared fact sheets on the Native populace of each state in the region. Do you know how many tribes there are in your state?
You worked on Native American issues from 2003-2008 at FCNL. What were highlights of your time?
It is rare for federal legislation affecting Native peoples in a positive way to be passed. The only piece signed into law in the five years I was with FCNL was the expansion of the Native American Languages Act of 1990. It was nice to celebrate that victory.
However, the vitally important reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act kept being blocked. When it was incorporated into the Obamacare legislation, there was elation!
I also have to mention a 2006 FCNL media symposium entitled “Hear Our Story: Communications and Contemporary Native Americans.” It had 22 Native and non-Native co-sponsors and dozens of prominent Native speakers, plus others such as the governor of Montana. I was very fortunate to be around remarkable Indigenous leaders.
Pat Powers, a former FCNL staff member, actively volunteers with the Indian Affairs Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting. She is a member of the Sandy Spring Meeting in Montgomery County, MD.