In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American Indians in the United States and Aboriginal people in Australia suffered a common experience at the hands of state authorities: the removal of their children to institutions in the name of assimilation.
Although officially characterized as benevolent, these policies often inflicted great trauma on indigenous families and ultimately served the settler nations’ larger goals of consolidating control over indigenous peoples and their lands.
“White Mother to a Dark Race” examines the key roles white women played in these removal policies.
Government officials, missionaries, and reformers justified the removal of indigenous children in particularly gendered ways by focusing on the supposed deficiencies of indigenous mothers, the alleged barbarity of indigenous men, and the lack of a patriarchal nuclear family in indigenous societies.
Often they deemed white women the most appropriate agents to carry out child-removal policies.
Inspired by the maternalist movements of the era, many white women were eager to serve as surrogate mothers to indigenous children and maneuvered to influence public policy affecting indigenous people.
Although some white women developed caring relationships with indigenous children and others became critical of government policies, many became ensnared in this insidious colonial policy.