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Indian Affairs Committee Interchange Reports

The text of Interchange reports from the Indian Affairs Committee available below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the link below.

Winter Edition Spring Edition Fall Edition
  Fall 2010 Interchange
  Spring 2012 Interchange  
  Fall 2015 Interchange
Winter 2017 Interchange  
Winter 2019 Interchange  
  Spring 2020 Interchange  

Spring 2020 Interchange

Rassawek Site Development Opposed
by Indian Affairs Committee

Quakers are usually active pacifists. As such, the BYM Indian affairs Committee is acting on a Native issue and we invite you to join us too. What action? Helping the Monacan Indian Nation assure that Rassawek, its former capital, is not dest royed by development, especially when there are other options for the development project. What action? Quaker action—write, email, spread the word.

Rassawek has been known to Europeans since at least the early 1600s, when John Smith showed it on a map. The Monacan Indian Nation has endured since prior to the arrival of Europeans. Though the Monacans have long known who they are, the federal government did not recognize them as a sovereign tribe until 2018.

The James River Water Authority plans to build a pumping station and ancillary facilities on the Rassawek site although other alternatives are available. Despite previously identified archeological materials found there, digging was done at the site without a permit. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has raised questions about appropriateness of the site. The BYM Indian Affairs Committee, along with many other people and groups, testified at public meetings of the Water Authority in August 2019 and March 2020 asking that another site be selected. The Water Authority purchased land at the Rassawek site years before beginning discussions with the Monacan Nation. At their March 11, 2020, the Water Authority spent less than two minutes agreeing to request a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to proceed, never mentioning the word Rassawek in their decision-making. This occurred despite more than 60 people speaking against this action earlier in the meeting. The US Army Corps of Engineers must approve a permit before further work is done because a navigable waterway (James River) is involved. The permit has been requested.

Monacan history informs them that graves of their ancestors lie at Rassawek. From another place, burials were disturbed, and the tribe suffered the trauma of reburial ceremonies, including those of children. Monacan Chief Branham has said, “There are ancestral remains in [the Rassawek] area. I did a major reburial once before and I do not want to do that again. You can move that site.” He also said, “We will not take any amount of money to let you go through there and destroy our ancestral homeland.” If the graves to be disturbed by this project were those of colonists or the known ancestors of the decision-makers, would the same choices have been made?

The Monacan Indian Nation is not a rich casino-running tribe. Costs for litigation, even though much of the legal work is pro bono, travel, and time off from paying jobs to meet on Rassawek issues, saps the funds, though not the spirit of the Monacan people. Their leadership and their legal advisors have expressed deep gratitude, many times, for Quaker support.

What can you do? Contact the Monacan Nation’s legal team (see: Scroll to the “How to get involved” section. Offer your skills (offer your skills, legal, social medial, IT, fundraising, etc. Contact Sue Marcus (What’s my IAC address??) and she will send you a contact form all supporters have been asked to complete. Monetary donations GoFundMe) are also welcome and needed.

The Corps of Engineers will issue a public notice, inviting public comment. We can put them on notice that this is a contentious issue, our region’s “Standing Rock” and we will take active concern in protecting Native rights and culture from development, especially when that development can successfully be located elsewhere. When appropriate, the Indian Affairs Committee will request that an environmental impact statement rather than a much less thorough environmental assessment be conducted and thoroughly reviewed by the Corps of Engineers and made available for a lengthy public comment period. The BYM Indian Affairs Committee has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk office and their headquarters Tribal Liaison office, reminding them that this is an issue of heighted public concern. As the tribe’s legal advisors suggest, we’ve contacted Virginia Governor Northem, too. You, like the IAC committee members, can write or contact these people as individuals, as meetings, or as meeting committees.

These are difficult times. Times of pandemic. Yet development still occurs. And we can still make a difference by being active!

Here are some contacts:
Cultural Heritage Partners
You can find the tribe’s GoFundMe link. This page contains many more links to more information.
Army Corps of Engineers:
USACE project manager for James River Water Authority project (Norfolk)
Mr. Steven Vanderploeg (copied here) at or (804) 323-7071
Ms Lisa Morales, Senior Tribal Liaison and Tribal Nations Program Manager, or (202) 761-7664
James River Water Authority (many links from this page)

Winter 2019 Interchange

Meeting Indigenous Neighbors, Promoting Visibility

On Oct 13 in Sandy Spring, MD, the Indian Affairs Committee hosted leaders of nearby tribes and Native American organizations and regional area residents of all ages for interactive learning. The event was unusual—neither a powwow nor a symposium—but rather a mix of panel discussions, photographic, art and map displays, and activities such as beading and social dances that encouraged people to learn as they were led. Our hearts were warmed by the comments of Native participants who felt respected and valued by the serious consideration of their concerns. We know we need to listen, perceive, connect, then act.

Attendees heard a variety of individual experiences. The roster of Native speakers included a community college dean, patent examiner, lobbyist, health service provider, anti-pipeline campaigns organizer, retired computer programmer, and former military officer. They talked about challenges for their communities but also about outstanding successes by Native Americans and answered questions. One person, poetically yet painfully, compared his search for early tribal history and cultural practices to an art conservator who discovers a painting under a painting; contemporary indigenous people’s past is covered by layers of European domination.

American Indian Society member making fry bread

Other Highlights
Guests were greeted by signs saying “You are on Piscataway land.” The opening ceremony was held outdoors. Hope Butler representing Tribal Chair Natalie Standingontherock Proctor (Cedarville Piscataway Band) and Tribal Chair Francis Gray (Piscataway Conoy) gave remarks. Michael Nephew (Eastern Band Cherokee) sang and BYM General Secretary Ned Stowe gave a welcome and encouraged a moment of silence. Afterwards, Rico Newman (Choptico Piscataway) offered “smudging,” a ritual cleansing, to those who wanted to participate. Inside, talks and cultural presentations provided a variety of learning experiences for all ages.

Clan Mother Crystal Proctor and Hope Butler from the Piscataway Mobile Museum explained the meaning of the dances they demonstrated and the regalia they wore. Their Copper Kettle also made authentic Native food. The American Indian Society of DC sold the always popular fry bread. Nine vendors showcased crafts such as weaving and jewelry making. The Baltimore American Indian Center and Lifelines had information tables.

A film festival, that highlighted Native Americans from 8 to 80, illustrated the surprisingly broad world of Native humor as well as current issues. The most popular light-hearted video was made by kids in Alaska; it shows multiple members of their rural community spelling out the words of the Hallelujah Chorus as the music soars. Adults viewed some films with heartening scenes of Native families living a satisfying life and others documenting profound injustices and continuing exploitation. Audience members were particularly interested in female leaders and those who had taken environmental or political action. Such heroes made clear that indigenous people will not allow themselves to be ignored or treated as a remnant of the past.

The event was held at Sandy Spring Friends School. Eight students from there made a presentation on how sports teams and fans degrade Indians and why the student government decided to ban the R word {redskins} from campus. This was an atypical program component. When non-Native institutions bring in Native storytellers, flute players, guest speakers, and experts to educate or entertain, interactive communication is rare. In this case, the Native American participants could hear and respond. Tara Houska, co-founder of Not Your Mascots, applauded the way SSFS students had taken action and encouraged advocacy on Indian child welfare.

Michael Nephew, former president of the American Indian Society, emailed this about the event: “I had an absolutely fabulous time. You lined up a great set of speakers for your panel. I [also] was impressed by the students that I got to listen to. I wished I could have heard all of them. Great job to all involved in arranging this.

Event activities went on simultaneously. Some attendees said they appreciated having choices while others would have liked undivided attention given to the dancers or speakers. There were requests for a future all-day event. The Rappahannock, Monocan, and Chickahominy tribes would probably participate if one were held in Virginia.

Since the goal was community involvement, it was gratifying that afterwards Olney theatre representatives requested assistance with diversity, inclusion, land acknowledgment statements, and even casting.

Winter 2017 Interchange

The Indian Affairs Committee has updated informational fact sheets on the current tribes in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. These are now available on the committee’s website at There are two versions, short and long, of each state fact sheet. The short version may be printed as a single, 2-sided sheet.

Fall 2015 Interchange

The Ancient Mystery of Powhatan Quakers

BYM Camps 2015

Few people alive today know that the Powhatan hamlet of Fine Creek was a center of Quaker life in what was once part of Goochland County; then a part of Cumberland County with its formation in 1749; and finally a part of Powhatan County with that county’s formation in 1777. The Fine Creek area was first developed in 1735 by John Pleasants Sr., a member of a prominent and early Virginia Quaker family. He built a gristmill at Lees Landing Road (Rt. 641) and Huguenot Trail (Rt. 711) along the lower falls of Fine Creek. Within a decade a small rural hamlet emerged next to the gristmill with several stores, a cooper’s shop, a blacksmith shop, a small cheese factory, a postal station, and a ferry that provided access across the James River to the northern part of Goochland County.

Annual Session 2015 photo by Cy DeVries

We know from the historical Quaker record that White Oak Swamp Monthly Meeting (aka. Henrico Monthly Meeting) allowed a “particular” (or subordinate) Quaker Meeting, Fine Creek Meeting, to be created in the area in 1746. At that time in Quaker history a new meeting would not have been allowed by the “monthly” (parent) meeting if there were not a good number of Quakers willing to support its ongoing existence. Quaker discipline was strict then and not the laissez-faire culture of liberal Quakerism today. Quakers were required to attend worship every “First Day” (Sunday) at the local meetinghouse if they were to remain Quakers. So, we know that a ready-made and active membership would have been available to provide ongoing support for the new meeting.

White Oak Swamp Monthly Meeting had a dozen or so Quaker meetings under its care during the eighteenth century. Fine Creek Meeting was just one of these, along with its “sister” meeting of Richmond Friends Meeting. Had Fine Creek meeting survived the ravages of history, today it would be 49 years older than Richmond Friends Meeting.

Powhatan County archives do indicate that Fine Creek Quakers were active abolitionists. James Pleasants of Fine Creek (brother of John Pleasants Sr. who was instrumental in developing the gristmill at Fine Creek) began emancipating his slaves around 1800 along with Fine Creek Quakers John Pleasants Jr. and Jonathan Pleasants, both sons of John Pleasants Sr. No doubt they were prompted to do so by a unanimous decision by all Virginia Quakers in 1800 to “disown” (the term then used to revoke Quaker membership) any Quaker who refused to emancipate their slaves. All Virginia Quakers had been asked to begin doing so since the mid 1770’s. County and historical records demonstrate a concerted effort by Fine Creek Quakers to systematically work towards this end. It wasn’t until 1804, however, that the county finally began providing newly freed blacks their certificates of freedom.

Fine Creek Meeting existed from 1746 until 1780 – some 34 years. Yet, there is much mystery surrounding the meeting. At that time in Quaker history, once a meeting was in existence for more than a few years, there was pressure as well as support to build a permanent meetinghouse. Also, Fine Creek meeting was nurtured by the Pleasants family – one of the wealthiest families in Virginia. So, the circumstantial evidence would suggest that a meetinghouse existed somewhere in the Fine Creek area of Powhatan.

Where exactly was the Fine Creek Meeting House located? Was it in the hamlet surrounding the gristmill; or, was it in the surrounding countryside? Why was the Fine Creek Meeting “laid down” after existing for 34 years? One can only hope that as ancient records become more searchable due to digitization, someone will be able to fill in the missing pieces to this local Quaker mystery. Maybe it will be YOU!

Spring 2012 Interchange

Two Native MD Tribes Recognized

On January 9, 2012 in Annapolis, Governor Martin O'Malley formally recognized the Piscataway Indian Nation and the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy (which includes the Cedarville Band) as state-recognized tribes, noting it had only taken 380 years. He said the Piscataway people don't need an executive order to be told who they are with this 'official recognition' (producing laughter), but he thanked them for their “persistence, their courage and their capacity for forgiveness" of past transgressions. There was a very nice reception at the Governor's mansion, which I attended, following the announcement in the State House.

This recognition could bring access to state and some federal funding for health, education and housing, as well as allowing minority status for Native businesses. It will NOT, however, allow gambling casinos to be built. This was a condition the tribes agreed to in order to gain recognition, which had been pending through several administrations. The Clerk of the Indian Affairs Committee and several members sent letters to Gov. O'Malley thanking him for the long sought action and his warm remarks about reconciliation.

Fall 2010 Interchange

Preserving and strengthening the Indian Affairs Committee is important not only for our region but for the country. Only a few Yearly Meetings such as New York and Philadelphia have Indian Committees. (PYM’s was established in 1795.) The Wilmington Yearly Meeting has a combined Missions and Indian Affairs Committee. Only a couple of others such as Intermountain Yearly Meeting have a commitment to broad American Indian concerns and to tribes in their area. There are Monthly Meetings in Maine and elsewhere and individuals in California, Indiana, and elsewhere who have an affinity for Native American hopes and dreams.

However, most Monthly Meetings have neither direct contact with Native American individuals and groups nor hear anything about them. That means we differ little from ordinary Americans except in one regard: Quakers hold dear our singular history.

We celebrate Friends in the past who sought to forge relationships with American Indians and Alaska Natives, who studied their history and culture and contributions, who kept treaties, who treated them as human beings not as savages or “curiosities,” and who served as intermediaries. However, we hear little about today’s Quakers who seek to humbly maintain such relationships and to stay informed. As several members of our committee observed, “It is ironic that most Friends know more about Palestinians than about our Native neighbors.”

Friends will be surprised to learn how curtailed our formal commitment has become during the past decade. How sad if but a vestige of a once dynamic and oh-so-needed undertaking survives. Traditionally, three national organizations have promoted Indian rights and welfare. Lamentably, such Quaker work and presence has drastically diminished. The Associated Committee of Friends on Indian Affairs, established in 1869, was laid down as a national organization several years ago. Both ACFIA and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) have retained interest in some local projects and offices. However, AFSC has not had a national staff person working on Indian issues for the past five years and has no plan to hire anyone. Currently, only Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) still has a program and its funding is shaky. (Fortunately, Indian issue expert and Mennonite Cindy Darcy will be working for FCNL this coming year. In its earliest years, FCNL’s program was staffed by Mennonites and Jesuits as well as Quakers.) More informally, for several decades Quakers arranged gatherings at five year intervals to listen to spiritual and secular Native leaders, but those ended due to lack of personnel and funds to organize them.

The historic Quaker witness was of aid during difficult times. One aspect of Quaker witness today involves moving caring people beyond charity to knowledge and advocacy. Some Friends have acquired a larger perspective through direct, sustained experience with Native Americans. They are in a position to explain to Quakers and non-Quakers why something more and different is needed than donations of materials goods or money to specific tribes. For example, it should be apparent that enlightening an often hostile public that knows little about contemporary Indians apart from gambling is a tough challenge. Explaining tribal sovereignty is as difficult in the 21st century as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is alarming what a tiny portion of Friends today are mindful of the predicament of the first Americans and value them as sisters and brothers. Shared goals such as environmental protection continue to provide a starting point for conversation between Indians and uninformed but empathetic Friends and for project partnerships. Maintaining links with these people of color and a different culture is an opportunity to learn, yet we seldom look at the incipient relationship that way.

Indigenous people are often invisible. Even national organizations focused on low income rarely mention that, as of 2000, a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty and 44% of children on reservations live in deep poverty (less than half the poverty line). Yes, many reservations attract religious and non-profit service projects. However, over 60% of Native Americans now reside off Native-held lands. American Indians and Native Alaskans are only one percent of the populace--giving them little power vis-à-vis the federal government, which controls them through a complex network of laws, regulations, and programs. As a marginalized group, they must fend for themselves because few non-Natives know and/or care about their circumstances. Some tribes located far away from Washington can now afford to hire DC lawyers, but they have few champions from conscience-led organizations. They lack the financial and moral support given to undocumented immigrants and gay citizens, as Indian rights have stopped being a liberal cause. Of course, the Leadership Council for Civil Rights organization is aware of and cares about Indian issues but it has scores of groups such as people with disabilities to support.

On almost every occasion, FCNL’s lobbyist is the only non-Native, non-profit representative in the room at congressional hearings and at large and small national Indian meetings. FCNL is depended upon to tell other faith and ethical concern organizations and others in our citizenry about the priorities of the National Congress of American Indians. In turn, FCNL needs the help of Yearly Meeting Indian Committees. We believe these facts make it clear that Yearly Meeting Indian committees should not be subsumed under Social Concerns or similar committees where they will get as ignored as Indian people do in the secular world. Why? Perhaps, Quakers have unconsciously come to believe that the “Indian problem” is already “handled.” Support is still needed and, fortunately, it is not amorphous. Indian leaders at national, regional, and local levels would like to provide direction.

As we look to the future, Quaker membership is growing in Africa and places that, naturally, have no interest in indigenous people in the United States. Indian leaders will be stunned and disheartened if they lose the only allies they have had, if they lose non-Native people who have helped convey their worries to other religious groups, Congress and the public. (Since those in government seldom hear from non-Natives or anyone on the East Coast about Native Americans, they find such letters or emails notable.) As inactive as our Committee sometimes can be and as modest as our efforts, Indian Affairs is maintaining a unique purpose. We hope more people will take an interest in some facet of our education and advocacy work.

At Annual Session, Baltimore Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee made an initial presentation about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and requested that the Yearly Meeting urge the United States to endorse the Declaration. Consideration of the request will take place at Interim Meeting in Richmond, VA, on October 16, 2010. The landmark Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in September 2007 by the UN General Assembly. After decades upon decades of efforts by advocates — with the extensive support of Quakers, obtaining this global affirmation of individual and collective equality was cause for celebration. Only four nations voted against it: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. In 2008, Australia endorsed this crucial Declaration, and in April 2010 New Zealand also reversed its initial position. This leaves only the two major powers in the Western Hemisphere, the United States and Canada, officially in opposition. Now, the Obama administration is seeking public comment about our country’s position.

The Declaration establishes a universal framework to assure the survival, dignity, well-being, and rights of the world’s 370 million Indigenous Peoples. While it is not binding in law, the Declaration represents the highest moral standard for their treatment. Friends can access the actual document via the United Nations Permanent Forum Indigenous Issues. Search “Declaration” or “UNDRIP.” Friends can also search via for excellent background materials.

Among Friends groups commending the Declaration are the American Friends Service Committee, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Canadian Yearly Meeting; the Indian Committees of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting; Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy; and also several Monthly Meetings. Friends Journal, August 2010, published a Quaker statement regarding the Declaration in the ‘Witness’ section.

Members of the Indian Affairs Committee, are happy to provide further information about this human rights document. As Interim Meeting approaches, we ask Friends to seek deeply for discernment as the Yearly Meeting considers whether to urge the federal government to join the rest of the world in endorsing the Declaration.

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