Assimilation, Removal, Discipline, and Confinement: Native Girls and Government Intervention

Rolnick, Addie C.

A full understanding of the roots of child separation must begin with Native children. This Article demonstrates how modern child welfare, delinquency, and education systems are rooted in the social control of indigenous children. It examines the experiences of Native girls in federal and state systems from the late 1800s to the mid1900s to show that, despite their ostensibly benevolent and separate purposes, these institutions were indistinguishable and interchangeable. They were simply differently styled mechanisms of forced assimilation, removal, discipline, and confinement. As the repeating nature of government intervention into the lives of Native children makes clear, renaming a system does not change its effect. The historical roots of these systems must be acknowledged, and the current systems must be abolished and replaced. To answer the question of what a nonpunitive, non-assimilative system would look like, this Article looks to tribal courts and indigenous justice systems. It points to specific examples of how Native communities have reshaped ideas about caring for and disciplining children, including traditional adoption, kinship care, wellness courts, family group conferencing, and a “best interests” standard that emphasizes the link between individual and collective well-being. 


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Also Published In

Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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Published Here
August 29, 2022