9 August 1993 — Lancaster, PA
Gordon McQuate is a man with a cause, that of promoting goodwill and understanding between American Indians and those of non-Indian descent.
Just returned from a work trip to Cherry Creek, S.D., situated on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, the 75-year-old Ephrata man said the easiest way to promote that goodwill is by working together.
That is one of the reasons that he helped organize a 15-person work party that traveled from Ephrata to South Dakota in July to help the congregation of the Cherry Creek United Church of Christ do needed repairs to their community center.
For McQuate , it was his fifth trip to the Sioux reservation. A member of Bethany UCC in Ephrata, he has been the driving force behind the church's ministry to the American Indians and led work parties in 1986, 1987 and 1988. There was no work trip in 1989, but McQuate and others did attend the ordination of Richard Charging Eagle, the first American Indian ever to be ordained as a UCC minister, a achievement made possible in part through financial help lent to Charging Eagle by McQuate .
Born in Reinholds in 1917, McQuate is the son of the late John and Carrie McQuate . For over 30 years, prior to his retirement in 1962, he worked as accountant and business manager for Hunt Motors, Ephrata.
He married the former Marion Hornberger in 1937 and the couple have five children. During World War II McQuate did a stint in the U.S. Navy.
Active in his community, he served on the Ephrata Township Planning Commission for many years and on the township's sewer authority as recently as 1991. During his 30 years of church membership he has served as a deacon and elder, was church secretary, and a former Sunday School teacher. McQuate is a corporate member of the Board for Homeland Ministries of the UCC church, and a member of the Speakers Bureau of the Council for American Indian Ministries.
McQuate is also former curator and founder of the Eicher Indian Museum and Gift Shop located in Ephrata Community Park, which sponsors Indian-related programs throughout the year. The museum opened in 1987 and has been doing well since, even though it is somewhat of an oddity in Ephrata.
"It's amazing how many people come in and say why an American Indian shop here in Pennsylvania. It's just as if there were no Indians here. Obviously they aren't informed about who lived here, why they lived here, or why they disappeared. So I saw this as another way we could promote Indian people and Indian customs," McQuate said.
McQuate 's interest in the plight of the American Indian goes back to 1976 when, he said, his church "asked me to speak about the American Indians and about their situation. It was then that I started researching." He has accumulated almost 300 books of the subject.
His interest was further spurred in 1980 while attending a workshop in Minneapolis, sponsored by the Council for American Indian Minstries.
"I was sitting beside a man about my age who was a Sioux Indian, and he told me that as a boy, he had been sent from his home in South Dakota to what was then the Carlisle Indian School. He said when he arrived he was absolutely forbidden to speak his native language. Whenever he forgot and spoke Sioux language at school, he was whipped. 'Today I have scars on my back where I was licked as a kid because I spoke my native language,' he said. So you know, you feel pretty cheap sitting beside someone like that," McQuate remembered.
"I obviously feel very strongly that the American Indian was mistreated, that they got a bad deal. What is worse, they are still getting a bad deal," McQuate said, referring to high unemployment and alcoholism rates on reservations, as well as a juvenile suicide rate 10 times the national average.
Educating non-Indian people, McQuate feels, is imperative if the life of hopeless desperation shared by most American Indians on the nation's reservations is to improve.
"It's a program, obviously I feel very strongly about, promoting Indian culture, and to promote the truth about what actually took place. I think that's important," he said.