The Lasting Trauma of Quaker Indigenous Boarding Schools

“Most Quakers still don’t know our history as participants in this enterprise of forced assimilation of Native people,” Paula Palmer says. “So the first thing that we have to do is learn the truth.”

In this video, Paula discusses Friends’ role in the traumas inflicted on the indigenous peoples of North America since the arrival of European colonists—particularly in the administration of boarding schools where Native children were forced to abandon their heritage and embrace the ways of White Christian culture, where they would never be truly accepted as equals.

Although it’s easy to “shake our fingers” at previous generations, Paula warns us that retroactive judgment isn’t enough—Quakers today need to hold themselves accountable as well. “As we think about work that we do today as Friends,” she says, “we need to examine our own attitudes and make sure that ways that we are trying to do good in the world are not also coming out of a sense of superiority.”

Thanks to this week’s sponsor:

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is a national, nonpartisan Quaker organization that lobbies Congress for peace, justice, and environmental stewardship. As we bear witness and lobby in solidarity with Native Americans, FCNL honors the Nacotchtank Tribe (also known as Anacostans) on whose ancestral land our buildings now stand. By the 1700s, the Nacotchtank Tribe had merged with other tribes like the Piscataway and the Pamunkey, both of which still exist today. Visit us online at

4 thoughts on “The Lasting Trauma of Quaker Indigenous Boarding Schools

  1. Wow! I somehow thought Quakers were not involved in the destruction of society regarding the Native Peoples of the U,S. thank you for sharing this information. It seems Quakers are not without blame in many things, including ownership of slaves..

  2. The number of Quakers in Canada is much smaller than in the U.S. and as far as I know, only a very small number of them taught in the Indigenous Boarding Schools here. But I have not heard of Quaker opposition to them, when they existed, and I don’t think that we today feel much responsibility for what our predecessors did.

    The words in this video are the most moving Quaker comment on the subject I have seen. The wrongness of our participation and the difficulty we have in accepting that “following our Light” could be so misguided is hard to accept.

  3. Thank you all for this inspirational interview with Friend Paula Palmer. I know I have vital work to do becoming better aquanted with the Leni Lenape, on whose ancestral lands where I now live. Gaining fascinating knowledge from the Hopi in Arizona was an important first step in the many steps that call to me. Fortunately the Birmingham Friends Meeting where I now attend welcomes and enjoys the work of an active committee, Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples (TRR), from whom and with whom I can learn more. I am grateful for the guidance of Friends.

    1. I am interested to learn more about the history of Quaker relations with the Lenape in your area. One of my Quaker ancestors (William Brinton) settled in the Birmingham area and family lore says that the Lenape people helped his family through at least their first winter (1684) before they could build a home. Does the Friends Meeting have any of that history in their possession? He had a considerable amount of land in Concord and Birmingham and the Concord Meeting was held in his home in Birmingham around 1690. William’s daughter, Esther Brinton Willis, my 7th GGMother, lived in Thornbury with her husband John Willis. It was fun to discover all of this history many years after graduating from nearby Westtown School. Thank you.

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