A Healing Partnership: Friends Historical Library, NABS, & Indian Country Today

Indian Country Today (ictnews.org) is a news resource that seeks to tell stories and spread the news about life of Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada. Recently they ran a news story updating Native America about the way Quakers are moving to share their records of the roles the Society of Friends played in the establishment of Indian Boarding and Industrial Schools from the 1850’s to today. Reading an ict news source brings indigenous voice to life.

“Part of the impact of colonialism is that many written records describing the lives of Indigenous people are stored in archives like ours that are far away from descendant communities,” said Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, associate curator for Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. Caust-Ellenbogen hopes that partnerships like these continue to open the way to furthering our discussions of roles different religious institutions had in the operation of Boarding schools.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) is partnering with Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College and Quaker & Special Collections at Haverford College to digitize 20,000 archival pages related to Quaker-operated Indian boarding schools. The project is funded by a grant of $124,311 that NABS was awarded from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission.

James LaBelle Sr., a boarding school survivor and the first vice president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition board, spoke at the Department of Interior news conference on May 11, 2022. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

James LaBelle Sr., boarding school survivor and first vice president of National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

“We are grateful to Swarthmore and Haverford for their willingness to partner with us as we try to better understand this history,” said Stephen R. Curley (Diné), director of digital archives for NABS. “This partnership is unique and necessary, and we hope it creates more opportunities in the future. It is going to take all communities working together to reveal the truth about Indian boarding schools.”

Documents related to Quaker-operated Indian boarding schools have been largely understudied, as they exist in scattered collections with limited access. The records, ranging from 1852-1945, relate to at least nine Quaker-operated Indian boarding schools that were located in Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

Friends interested in expanding their knowledge of the history of our relations with Lenni Lenape and other indigenous Native American groups impacted by Quakers might want to start with a reading of Jean Soderlund’s book on New Jersey and the Lenape called ‘Separate Paths.’ She has written several books on Quakers and indigenous groups. The other article we want to point you to is the FCNL recap of some right relations work. Paula Palmer, who is referenced there, is a great contact. There is also a libguide here.

Keep learning, growing, and following the arc of justice as we seek Right Relationship with Turtle Island, our relatives and relations, and seeking of Truth, Amends, Apology, Retrospective Justice

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