William Penn is oft revered in Quaker communities for his peaceful interactions with Native Americans, particularly Delaware or Lenni-Lenape people whose land stretched across what is now Philadelphia. Under the great elm at the Shackamaxon, William Penn and Elders met to sign a treaty, at which time words were said to have been shared:

“We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. We are the same as if one man’s body was to be divided into two parts; we are of one flesh and one blood.”

The response of head sachem:

“We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.”

Part of what draws me to Quakerism is our commitment to seeking the Truth collectively. We do not hide from the Light that can be painful in its revealing work. It is painful to me as I look on our history, and can easily choose to focus on or lift up the gems of things we, as Friends, “got right” along the way, without acknowledging the deep harm that was also caused, and still undermines our connection to Spirit today. Quakers have complicated histories with Quaker Boarding Schools, colonization, white supremacy culture, and the prison industrial complex to name a few. It is harmful to ignore these challenging pieces of our shared history, and I see it very clearly as part of my work, as a Quaker committed to the future of this community, to recognize these places, and not hide from them.

We need to continually acknowledge the harm the Religious Society of Friends has done in the past as we work towards the Continuing Revolution we believe in, which looks to me like what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would call the Beloved Community. The work is made manifest when we listen deeply to movement of the Spirit inwardly, and amongst Friends. This is not going to be comfortable, and shall be taken on with humility and openness. Quakers are Colonizers, on this land and in other lands.  What is our work in decolonizing our meetings, communities, and institutions?

-Liz Nicholson
Atlanta Fellow 2012-13
Atlanta City Coordinator/Communications Coordinator


What to do:

  1. Identify the Territory you’re on
  2. Donate to indigenous orgs
  3. Read about “Settler Privilege” in Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Settler Privilege or Settler Fragility
  4. Advocate on National Legislative issues affecting Native Americans with FCNL
  5. Listen to Indigenous podcasts
  6. Speak up when you hear harmful narratives being pushed (i.e. Pilgrims and Indians Thanksgiving narrative)
  7. Engage with some Native art or music (suggestions below)
  8. 10 Ways to be an Ally to Indigenous People
  9. Learn more about Quaker Boarding Schools in this Friends Journal Article- Facing Our History and Ourselves
  10. Learn more about this historical moment depicted in the Edward Hicks painting above-

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