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A Generation Removed

The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World

Margaret D. Jacobs

Publication Year: 2014

On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, which pitted adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco against baby Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Veronica’s biological mother had relinquished her for adoption to the Capobiancos without Brown’s consent. Although Brown regained custody of his daughter using the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Capobiancos, rejecting the purpose of the ICWA and ignoring the long history of removing Indigenous children from their families.
In A Generation Removed, a powerful blend of history and family stories, award-winning historian Margaret D. Jacobs examines how government authorities in the post–World War II era removed thousands of American Indian children from their families and placed them in non-Indian foster or adoptive families. By the late 1960s an estimated 25 to 35 percent of Indian children had been separated from their families.
Jacobs also reveals the global dimensions of the phenomenon: These practices undermined Indigenous families and their communities in Canada and Australia as well. Jacobs recounts both the trauma and resilience of Indigenous families as they struggled to reclaim the care of their children, leading to the ICWA in the United States and to national investigations, landmark apologies, and redress in Australia and Canada. 


Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Praise, Support, Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xii-xvi

This book would not have been possible without the institutional support of the University of Nebraska– Lincoln. I am deeply grateful for the strong backing the university has given me to pursue this project. The American Council of Learned Societies provided me with a much-needed fellowship for 2012–13 to finish the research and writing of this book. Thank you, ACLS, for the gift of time....

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A Note on Terms

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pp. xvii-xviii

There is no ideal term or agreed upon terminology for the original inhabitants of North America and Australia. I have used tribal nation designations in their original languages when possible. I use American Indian and Native American interchangeably when making more general references for the United States. I refer to Aboriginal people in Australia. Canada’s Indian Act created four categories of people with Indigenous ancestry:...


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pp. xix-xxii

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pp. xxiii-xxx

Matt and Melanie Capobianco appeared on the popular daytime television talk show Dr. Phil on October 18, 2012, to bring their case to the public. The white middle- class South Carolina couple had sought to adopt a newborn, Veronica, with the consent of her unwed mother in 2009. Authorities served notice of the adoption to Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown, four months later, less than a week before he was to be deployed...

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pp. xxxi-xxxviii

The widespread removal of Indian children by government authorities and their frequent adoption in white families grew out of a particular historical moment after World War II. Yet this phenomenon also had many earlier precedents. American Indians, as a group of colonized peoples, had endured heightened levels of intervention into their families since at least the late nineteenth century....

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Part 1: Taking Care of American Indian Children

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pp. 1-4

Recently, when I was at my annual check- up, my health care provider asked me about what I was writing. I told her about my research, and she disclosed that in her work at a low- income clinic, she meets Indian families all the time who face the loss of their children. But what can be done, she asked me, when alcoholism rates on reservations in Nebraska are over 90 percent? This shocking number didn’t sound right to me, but I didn’t have any...

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Chapter 1: The Bureaucracy of Caring for Indian Children

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pp. 5-36

Adam Fortunate Eagle was five years old when his father died, leaving eight young children without his financial support during the Great Depression. Adam’s mother sent the six oldest children, including Adam, from their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota to Pipestone Indian Boarding School in the southwestern part of the state. She later married a Sisseton-Wahpeton man from the Lake Traverse Reservation...

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Chapter 2: Caring about Indian Children in a Liberal Age

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pp. 37-64

Helen and Carl Doss were a devout white Methodist couple who were unable to have children. They sought to adopt a baby in the 1940s. They found there were not many children available, and one social worker called the Dosses “financially unstable.” Eventually a social worker assigned them a blue- eyed little boy, Donny. They tried to adopt another similar child but again faced obstacles. So they told agencies they would be willing...

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Part 2: The Indian Child Welfare Crisis in Indian Country

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pp. 65-68

I met “John” at an academic conference. He is one of the most inquisitive academics I have ever encountered. He read all the conference papers carefully in advance and found the most incisive— and often infuriating— questions to ask each presenter. He picked out the flaws in each presenter’s arguments and the weaknesses in our evidence....

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Chapter 3: Losing Children

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pp. 69-96

David and Louisa Rendon, a White Earth Chippewa couple from Minnesota, had moved to Texas for David’s employment in the oil fields in the 1970s. Twenty- four- year- old Louisa had suffered several stillbirths, so the couple was overjoyed when she delivered a premature but healthy baby boy, Jason, in a Texas hospital in April 1974. But the Rendons’ elation was shortlived. While the baby was still in the hospital, the Texas...

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Chapter 4: Reclaiming Care

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pp. 97-126

Mrs. Fournier, a sixty- two- year- old Mandan woman, was taking care of two-year-old Ivan Brown at her home on the Fort Totten Reservation of the Devils Lake (now Spirit Lake) Sioux in North Dakota one day in 1968 when a pair of men showed up at her door. Robert Barrett, the director of the Benson County Welfare Board in North Dakota, and the Benson County sheriff had come to remove Ivan Brown and place him for adoption ...

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Chapter 5: The Campaign for the Indian Child Welfare Act

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pp. 127-162

Leon “Lee” Cook had been raised traditionally by members of his extended family on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwest Minnesota. His mother had died shortly after giving birth to him, and his father and his mother’s sisters cared for him until his father died. Then he went to live with his paternal grandfather, until he too died, when Cook was just ten...

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Part 3: The Indian Child Welfare Crisis in a Global Context

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pp. 163-168

I traveled to Saskatoon and Winnipeg to spend several weeks in the Saskatchewan Archives Board and the Archives of Manitoba in the fall of 2012. On my last day in Saskatoon I found an intriguing newspaper article that referred to a case in which authorities removed three Métis children from the Doucette family in Prince Albert. I longed to know more, so in my last few hours in the archives, I combed through the archival finding guide for...

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Chapter 6: The Indigenous Child Welfare Crisis in Canada

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pp. 169-212

Authorities with the Saskatchewan Department of Social Services decided in 1975 that it was time for three Métis foster children from Prince Albert to be permanently adopted. They advertised the nine- , ten- , and eleven-year-old children and found an interested white family, the Todds from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Officials arranged for the Todds to come to Saskatchewan in June 1975 to meet and become acquainted with the children....

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Chapter 7: The Indigenous Child Welfare Crisis in Australia and Transnational Activism

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pp. 213-252

Australian Aboriginal community activist Mollie Dyer had been working as a field officer with the Aboriginal Legal Service for a number of years in the 1970s in Fitzroy, an inner- city neighborhood of Melbourne where many Aboriginal people lived. She provided representation for Aboriginal defendants in court, offered general welfare advice and assistance, and assisted with the running of a hostel for Aboriginal people recently...

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Chapter 8: Historical Reckoning with Indigenous Child Removal in Settler Colonial Nations

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pp. 253-272

Residents of the small city of Melbourne, Florida, woke on Thanksgiving Day 1988 to discover that a grisly murder had occurred in their midst. An assailant had brutally raped and strangled Barbara Ann Barber, a successful interior decorator, in a back alley. Three days later police captured her alleged killer, James Savage, a twenty- six- year- old Australian Aboriginal homeless man who had spent nine out of the last ten years in American...

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pp. 273-276

Much of this book has been concerned with recovering an important truth about the egregious violation of Indigenous people’s rights in the United States, Canada, and Australia in the recent past. In the righting of such historical wrongs, the companion to truth is reconciliation. But it may be premature to talk about reconciliation when there is still so much more truth to tell. And Indigenous people have other priorities than reconciliation:...


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pp. 277-326


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pp. 327-342


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pp. 343-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780803276581
E-ISBN-10: 0803276583
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803255364

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2014