“The Homes of Entire Strangers”: Native American and Aboriginal Servants in White Homes in 20th-Century Australia and the United States

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:20 AM
Crystal Ballroom C (Hilton Atlanta)
Victoria Haskins, University of Newcastle
During the first half of the twentieth century the settler nation-states of United States and Australia saw the introduction and implementation of official schemes to promote the employment of Indigenous women as domestic servants. Under various ‘apprenticeship’ systems in Australia and a Bureau of Indian Affairs ‘Outing program’ in the United States, Indigenous girls and young women were placed in private white homes to work, spearheading a policy represented as one of ‘civilizing’ and ‘making useful’ Aboriginal and American Indian people. Such state intervention was derived, fundamentally, from the power of the state to determine where Indigenous girls and women could work. Necessitating a formulation by the state of the ideal, or at least the preferred, employer of Indigenous servants, the implementation of these schemes actively generated a hierarchical social structure based on Indigenous employment, the selection of employers working as a device to define social status and categories of inclusion in the modern settler national project.

In this paper, I focus on the processes involved in the selection of ‘suitable homes’ where Indigenous girls were to be placed to work as servants. In identifying who were appropriate employers and excluding those who weren’t, authorities grappled with a distinct tension between the forces of domestication and alienation at play in cross-cultural relationships at this time. On the one hand, these schemes were aimed at ‘familiarising’ Indigenous people within the settler nation state; and on the other, their implementation fixed firm and exclusive boundaries of race and class that positioned Indigenous people entirely outside of the nation.