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Responses to News about Woolman Property

Published: Feb. 2, 2024

From Friends in Colorado:

Last week’s edition of the Extra Extra Western Friend newsletter included a “Letter of Dismay” concerning the proposed sale of John Woolman School. As Quakers involved in working towards right relations with Indigenous Peoples, we feel compelled to express a differing viewpoint.

The Woolman school sits on the ancestral homelands of the Nisenan peoples who lived in Indigenous settlements throughout western Nevada County. According to the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe, the school is located on a historic Nisenan Village site called Yulića. Nevada County has recognized the Nisenan Tribe as the oldest known Nevada County residents and citizens and states that the Tribe is composed of the direct descendants of the same Nisenan families who lived in the area prior to colonization. The influx of gold miners into Nevada County in 1848 led to the displacement of the Nisenan Peoples from their land. A reservation was created for the Tribe in 1913, but in 1958 the U.S. Congress terminated the Tribes rights in a policy intended to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American culture. In 1964 the Bureau of Indian Affairs sold the Tribe's reservation land at an auction. Like other Native Americans, the Nisenan Peoples have experienced deterioration of their culture through land loss, boarding schools, and suppression of religious beliefs. This has resulted in ongoing trauma, poverty, and unhealthy living conditions. Because the Federal government terminated their sovereignty, the Nisenan Peoples do not have access to Federal programs and support available to recognized tribes.

Quakers have a long history with Native Americans, some positive and some less so. In the 1800s, the U.S. Federal Government used three primary institutions in an attempt to subjugate and assimilate Native Americans – military/militias, boarding schools, and control of reservations through Indian agents. Quakers participated by running and funding boarding schools and acting as Indian agents. The effects of these actions by Quakers, while presumably well intentioned at the time, were devastating to Native Americans who continue to feel their impacts today. As Quakers, we feel a need to find positive ways to build right relations with Indigenous Peoples and to take actions of reparation for the harm that we have caused both as Quakers and as participants in colonial American culture.

Returning land to ancestral inhabitants is a way for us to begin to repair past harm. Once the land is returned, it should be up to Indigenous Peoples to decide how to use it. To do otherwise would suggest we know better than they on how to use their land, and this would simply perpetuate subjugation of Indigenous culture.

In the book Moral Repair: Reconstructing Social Relations After Wrongdoing, Margaret Urban Walker suggests that what is needed after harm is sincerely attempted moral repair and that failing to address wrongs deepens the damage done. We believe that the sale of Woolman School to an organization representing the Nisenan Peoples is a positive step in addressing wrongs perpetuated by Quakers.

from Bob Shively and Tom Thompson, Fort Collins CO Friends Meeting (1/31/2024)

From a Friend in Iowa:

Dear Friends,

I read with interest the recent “Letter of Dismay” objecting to the return of land to the Nisenan tribe. That was a detailed summary of how some Friends might view the return of the land. But I'm writing in support of the land return. I believe we are living on stolen land. It's undeniable that this entire country was populated by Indigenous peoples when the colonists arrived. Indigenous peoples didn’t have the concept of land ownership. The European colonialists did and used that concept to take over more and more land. Killing many Native Americans in the process. Breaking their spirits by forcibly taking their children to institutions of forced assimilation. Bringing diseases that decimated Native populations. All of the treaties detailing Indigenous rights were eventually broken. That didn't entail just the loss of the land, but the loss of language, ceremony, medicines, and kinship as well. I believe it is only just for Friends to support Native peoples' efforts to reestablish stewardship of the land and support them in their efforts to recover their culture.

from Jeff Kisling, Bear Creek Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) (2/1/2024)

Topics:  Diversity, Equity, & Antiracism