Quakers apologize for Native boarding schools, including one in Juneau
October 19, 2022
The Alaska Quakers apologized to Alaska Native communities for the boarding schools it ran in Alaska and the United States, which forcibly assimilated and abused Indigenous children, separated them from their families and caused intergenerational trauma.
In the 1800s and 1900s, the Quakers ran about 30 boarding schools for Native American and Alaska Native youth in the U.S. and its territories, including one in Alaska — the Douglas Island Friends Mission School in Juneau.
Members of the Alaska Friends Conference of the Religious Society of Friends formally read the apology out loud on Oct. 7 at the former site of the Quaker-established mission school, which is now Sayéik Gastineau elementary school.
“The methods used in some of the Friends schools were harsh and often cruel. Alaska Native people have described to members of Alaska Friends Conference and other listeners what it was like for them or their relatives to go to a school where children were tortured and/or physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise harmed,” the apology said.
“Punishment like this caused humiliation, shame and alienation. You, your ancestors, nor anyone else, deserves this kind of treatment. We are deeply sorry.”
Cathy Walling, a member of the Chena Ridge Friends Meeting in Fairbanks, and Jan Bronson, an Anchorage Quaker, traveled to Juneau to read the formal apology during an Orange Shirt Day event, a day of remembrance for what are known as Indian boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada.
The Douglas Island Friends Mission School, which was both a school and an orphanage, was established in 1888 by Quaker missionaries. In 1893, 26 Alaska Native children were in residence there, according to Walling. It operated until 1902.
Jamiann S’eiltin Hasselquist said the location of the Douglas Island Friends Mission School has a lot of significance. Hasselquist is vice president of Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2 in Juneau, which helped organize the Orange Shirt Day event. Present-day Sayéik Gastineau elementary school was built upon a Native burial ground in the late 1950s.
“We know about the remains that were disturbed several years ago and, historically, people have identified that area as a Native cemetery. I’m associating at least some of those resting places with the Douglas Island Friends Mission School,” Hasselquist said.
Burial sites have been found in dozens of Indian boarding schools across the country and in Canada.
Seikooni Fran Houston said it was emotional hearing the apology and she was touched. Houston is tribal spokesperson for the Áakʼw Ḵwáan people.
“It was a long time waiting. If only my ancestors and my grandparents, all of them could hear that. But I know they’re there. They’re here,” she said.
This is the first time she’s heard anyone apologize for the residential schools in Alaska. “I’m just glad it came out,” she said.
In the apology, the Alaska Friends Conference acknowledged the mission school sought to assimilate Alaskan Native children and youth into white culture, punished kids for speaking their language, banned dancing and separated children from their birth culture.
“Once fractured, these ties are difficult and sometimes impossible to mend,” the apology said.
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