Alaska Quakers apologize for Douglas Island Friends Mission School

Two women wearing orange shirts stand and speak in a gymnasium
Cathy Walling and Jan Bronson from the Alaska Friends Conference reading the apology at Sayéik Gastineau Community School in Douglas on Sept. 30, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Two representatives from the Religious Society of Friends in Alaska — or Quakers — read a formal apology on Friday for a school and orphanage the church opened in the late 1800s. 

The apology was part of an Orange Shirt Day gathering at Sayéik Gastineau Community School in Douglas, which was built on the grounds of the former Douglas Island Friends Mission.

In 2012, graves were found on the school grounds during renovations. 

The school was renamed five years later. Sayéik loosely translates to “spirit helper.” The Douglas Indian Association said at the time that the word reflects the original Lingít name of the land and a need to acknowledge historical trauma Indigenous people experienced there.

Goldbelt Heritage Foundation’s Victoria Ann Johnson leads Juneau Montessori School students in singing Lingít songs on Sept. 30, 2022, in Juneau. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Cathy Walling and Jan Bronson are from the Alaska Friends Conference. They read aloud from the apology. 

“To the Áak’w Kwáan people, we honor you. We honor your lands. We hear you. We believe you and we are here expressing our deep wishes for healing, for transformation, for truth, and we commit to not stop at truth. But to move them to the reparations. We want land back for you. We want you back. We want your languages back.”

According to the letter, the Religious Society of Friends ran around 30 schools for Native youth in the U.S., with the intention of forcing Indigenous children to assimilate into white society. 

“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.”

Bronson and Walling brought a written history of Quaker missionaries in Alaska as a gesture of the “truth” part of “truth and reconciliation.” The book contains a list of all members of the church in Alaska from part of the time the school operated, which they said may help family members of survivors and victims — or archivists researching the school — to find names of students.

Jamiann S’eiltin Hasselquist, with the Alaska Native Sisterhood, organized the gathering and worked with Bronson and Walling to include the apology in the event. She said the apology will “encourage other denominations to maybe help other denominations come forward with their own recognition of the past and the lasting effects of that.”

Daxkilatch Kolene and Xeetli.eesh Lyle James prepared a cleansing ceremony with cedar branches dipped in ocean water. 

A branch from an evergreen held above a metal bowl
Cedar branches dipped in ocean water used in the ceremony at Sayéik Gastineau Community School in Douglas on Sept. 30, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

“The symbolism of our cedar is peace and then but ocean water, of course, we go to to heal ourselves,” Daxkilatch Kolene said.

The boughs were handed out to those in attendance, who brushed them on the walls and doors of the school.

Yvonne Krumrey

Local News Reporter, KTOO

Juneau is built on hidden and assumed layers of power and access, influencing how we interact with identity, with the law and with each other. I bring you stories of the gaps in access to power, and those who are working to close those gaps.

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