Federal Fathers and Mothers: Deploying Intimate Colonialism in Federal Indian Policy

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Cathleen D. Cahill, University of New Mexico
As a settler colonial nation, the United States had to decide what to do with the Indigenous populations that it had conquered. During the late nineteenth century, policy makers chose a strategy of assimilation and created a series of programs to facilitate the dispossession of Native land, the dissolution of Native nations, and the assimilation of Indian people into the citizenry. To staff these programs, the federal government constructed a bureaucracy that was unlike any other in the nation (and is seemingly unique among colonial powers as well). The workforce of the federal Indian Office was full of Indians, women, and married couples, making it the most racially and sexually diverse federal agency in the nation. This paper demonstrates that this unusual workforce resulted from policy makers’ decision to use a strategy of intimate colonialism, replacing Native childrens’ parents with federal employees, the fathers and mothers of the paper’s title. The paper then turns to the personnel files of fifty-five female Native employees to reveal the ways in which those women creatively used their employment in the colonial bureaucracy to resist federal efforts to break up their families and destroy their tribal identities. In particular, the paper focuses on how they created new familial, social, and political intertribal ties as a way to anchor themselves in Indigenous communities in direct contrast to the federal government’s efforts to atomize those communities.
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