Finding Right Relations

Quakers, Native Americans, and Settler Colonialism

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Quakers were one of the early settler colonist groups to invade northeastern North America. William Penn set out to develop a “Holy Experiment,” or utopian colony, in what is now Pennsylvania. Here, he thought, his settler colonists would live in harmony with the Indigenous Lenape and other settler colonists.

Centering on the relationship between Quaker colonists and the Lenape people, Finding Right Relations explores the contradictory position of the Quakers as both egalitarian, pacifist people, and as settler colonists. This book explores major challenges to Quaker beliefs and resulting relations with American Indians from the mid-seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century. It shows how the Quakers not only failed to prevent settler colonial violence against American Indians but also perpetuated it. It provides historical examples such as the French and Indian War, the massacre of the Conestoga Indians, and the American Indian boarding schools to explore the power of colonialism to corrupt even those colonists with a belief system rooted in social justice.

While this truth rubs against Quaker identity as pacifists and socially conscious, justice-minded people, the authors address how facing these truths provide ways forward for achieving restitution for the harms of the past. This book offers a path to truth telling that is essential to the healing process.
“Nielsen and Heather provide a nuanced and comprehensive exploration of Quaker entanglement with settler colonialism, and point toward ways in which truth telling, restitution, reparation, and reconciliation might be advanced by building on the commonalities between contemporary Quaker peacemaking and that of the Lenape Nation.”—Polly O. Walker, Director of the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Juniata College

Finding Right Relations: Quakers, Native Americans, and Settler Colonialism is a careful examination of how the Quaker testimonies fared among Friends in colonial Pennsylvania in the face of the anti-Native settler, colonialist attitudes of their neighbors and the often-unexamined view of many of those Friends that European cultures were superior to the cultures of Indigenous people. Friends today must still wrestle with those same testimonies in the face of the culture that surrounds us and the biases we have absorbed from that culture.”—David Etheridge, Friends Journal

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