How the US stole thousands of Native American children

How the US stole thousands of Native American children

I was adopted by a white missionary couple. I was adopted… immediately placed for adoption. I was in foster care with one family for 18
years. They were white. My parents loved us and I understand that. But at the same time… They took the idea that they were saving me. Saving us from ourselves. Being saved and I should be grateful for the life that I’ve been given because any child on the reservation would give anything to
live as I was living. They took us away from our mom. They came marching right in and literally took us and thousands of other children from their home. It’s a way to eradicate us. And to go to our nation’s children is one of the sure ways to do that. The US has a long and brutal legacy of attempting to eradicate Native Americans. For centuries, they colonized Native American lands and murdered their populations. They forced them west and pushed them into small, confined patches of land. But, Native Americans resisted. A Board of Indian Commissioners report said: “instead of dying out under the light and contact of civilization” the Indian population “is steadily increasing.” And that was an obstacle to total American
expansion. So the US found a new solution: to “absorb” and “assimilate” them. It all started with an experiment, and a man
named Richard Henry Pratt. He had in his charge some prisoners of war and he taught these men how to speak English, how to read and write, and how to do labor. He dressed them in military uniforms and basically ran an assimilation experiment. And then he took his results to the federal government and said they’re capable of being civilized. So he was able to get this project funded. In 1879,  the government funded Pratt’s project, the first ever off-reservation boarding school for Native American children. His motto was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” What started there, at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was nothing short of genocide disguised as American education. Children were forcibly taken from reservations, and placed into the school, hundreds — even thousands — of miles away from their families. They were stripped of their traditional clothing. Their hair was cut short. They were given new names, and forbidden from speaking their Native languages. To take our children and to indoctrinate them into Western society to take away their identity as indigenous peoples, their tribal identity,
I think it’s one of the most effective and insidious ways that the US did do harm to indigenous peoples here because it targeted our children, our most vulnerable. And they tried to make us ashamed for being Indian and they tried to make us something other than Indian. There are also accounts of mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Of forced manual labor, neglect, starvation, and death. My great grandfather went to Carlisle and nobody in my family ever talked about it. So if you google Indian boarding schools, the majority of the pictures that you will see will be actually from Carlisle. Colonel Pratt created propaganda. He hired a photographer to create those before and after photos to show that his experiment was working. So it was intentional propaganda. And it worked. The Carlisle model of education swept the country — and led to the creation of over 350 boarding schools to assimilate Native American children. In 1900, there were about 20,000 Native American children in these schools. By 1925, that number more than tripled. Families that refused to send their kids to these schools faced consequences like incarceration at Alcatraz, or the withholding of food rations. Some parents, who did lose their children to these schools, even camped outside to be close to them. Many students ran away. Some found ways to hold on to their languages and cultures. Others, though, could no longer communicate with family members. And some never returned home at all. By stripping the children of their Native American identities — the US government had found a way to disconnect them from their lands. And that was part of the US strategy. During the same era in which thousands of children were sent away to boarding schools, a number of US policies infringed on their tribal lands back home. In less than five decades, two thirds of Native American lands had been taken away. The whole thing was purposeful. 
And the fact that it has been buried in the history books and not acknowledged is also intentional. And in fact the same tactics were used in New Zealand, Australia, Canada. All of these countries have acknowledged, apologized, or reconciled in some way except for the United States. Over time, the brutality of boarding schools
started to surface. And after a 1928 report detailed the horrific conditions at the schools — many began to close. In the 1960s, indigenous activism rose alongside the Civil Rights Movement. And by the 1970s, that activism forced more schools to shut down. The government handed over control of the remaining boarding schools to tribes, to be run in partnership with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But just as the boarding school era started fading, another assimilation project took shape. Adoption. The main goal of this pilot project was to “stimulate the adoption of American Indian children,” to “primarily non-Indian adoptive homes.” They claimed it was to promote the adoption of the “forgotten child” but it was essentially a continuation of the boarding school assimilation tactics. And the strategy came with a financial advantage for the government too. Adoption was cheaper than running boarding schools. But first, adoption officials had to sell white America on the idea of adopting Native American children. Feature stories, like this one in Good Housekeeping, marketed them to white families. They were described as “unwanted,” and adoption gave them a chance at “new lives.” In the end, their media campaign worked. White families “wanted Indian Adoption.” But the problem was, many of these children, were not “orphans that nobody wanted.” They were kids, often ripped apart from families that wanted to keep them. You still will hear stories today of people my age, older, saying I remember as a child the social worker was coming. And people would hide their children. On reservations, social workers used catchall phrases like “child neglect” or “unfit parenting” as evidence for removal. But their criteria was often questionable. Some accounts describe children being taken away for living with too many family members in the same household. Extended family is a big thing for Native people. That means being judged for a house that’s overcrowded. So it’s always that
whiteness is the standard for success. And everything else is judged by that standard. By the 1960s, about one in four Native children were living apart from their families. The official Indian Adoption Project placed 395 Native children into mostly white homes. But it was just one of many in an era of Native American adoptions. Other state agencies and private religious organizations began increasingly making placements for Native American children, too. My mother giving me up was a white person telling her if she didn’t, she would never see her other kids again. In one of the documents I have, it’s addressed to my biological father Victor Fox. That he was trying to look us up to get ahold of us. But Hennepin County wrote, “Daniel and Douglas are adapting very well in their new family.” This was totally, it was a false statement. When you’re adopted, you know you’re missing something. I think I’ve likened it to having like, when someone has a 500 piece puzzle and they have all the pieces to make this pretty picture except one. My adoptive mother was not well. Verbally, physically, and sexually and spiritually abusive. By the time I was 14 I started drinking. 15, drugs were added and I became an addict to numb. I didn’t realize I was numbing pain. I tried suicide. I tried slicing my wrists
one time. Children were taken. And believed like I believed for a long time, that there was something wrong with me, versus something wrong
with the system The Indian Adoption Project was considered a success by the people who set it in motion. Officials claimed, “generally speaking, we believe the Indian people have accepted the adoption of their children by Caucasian families and have been pleased to learn the protection afforded these children.” But, the truth was unsettling. “These hearings on Indian children’s welfare are now in session.” “I was pregnant with Bobby and the welfare woman kept asking if I’d give him up for adoption. “Before he was even born?” “Yeah” “They picked up my children, and placed them in a foster home. And I think they were abused in the foster
home.” Four years after Native people organized in this Senate hearing — Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act — known as ICWA. It gives tribes a place at the table in court. States would be required to provide services to families to prevent removal of an Indian child. And in case removal was necessary,
they would have to try to keep the child with extended family, or another Native American family. Without our relatives we cease to exist. So with native people, part of our wealth, is in our family. It’s in who we’re connected to. But the legacy of family separation in Native communities has been difficult to fully undo. Today, Native American children are four times more likely to be placed in foster care than white children —  even when their families
have similar presenting problems. In these cases, ICWA is often the best legal
protection they have. And it’s been under attack, repeatedly. “A young girl ripped from her foster family, because of the Indian Children Welfare Act.” White adoptive families intent on keeping Native American children have tried to do away with the act, and they’re often backed by conservative organizations. “The Indian Child Welfare Act was dealt a blow earlier this month.” “The subject of a lawsuit issued on Tuesday by the Goldwater Institute arguing that preferences given to American Indian families to adopt Indian children is unconstitutional and discriminates based on race.” “It’s a way for these industries, these very powerful industries, to try to attack what Indian identity is.” Wanting to overturn ICWA is connected to everything about who we are as a nation. So if we don’t have any protections for our families, and if we don’t have protections for our treaties, then we have no more Indians. We’ve been under attack. We’re going to continue to be under attack and we have to keep just keep fighting. It’s in our DNA to survive. We are nations that pre-existed European contact and we are still here.

Author: Kevin Mason

100 thoughts on “How the US stole thousands of Native American children

  1. Thank you for watching the latest episode of Missing Chapter! We initially set out to just tell the story of the Native American boarding schools — but along the way we learned about the era of Native adoptions that followed. We traveled to Minnesota (which has the highest disparity in the US when it comes to placements of Native American children into the child welfare system) — and that’s where we interviewed all the wonderful folks who you meet in this piece!

    This episode was another idea that came from our viewers via the callout (still open for story submissions here:, so thanks to those of you who shared your ideas! It was one of our most requested suggestions, so I’m really excited to get to share it with y’all. – Ranjani

  2. My grandmothers brothers died in residential schools in Canada. My grandmother was in her 70s before she could call herself a Cree woman or Indian again because she was so traumatized

  3. What we were taught as children- “The Indians taught Columbus how to grow corn”

    Howard Zenn – Columbus has the ears of a indigenous person cut off and sent back to his village as a warning. It was punishment for the river forwarding that didn’t go to plan

  4. 💔😔 such wicked evilness perpretrated against Native Americans.
    Just shameful the atrocities people commit in the name of God. I feel, as a white person, that it's important to support indigenous peoples right to self determination, to listen to indigenous peoples personal lived experience stories without judgement or critisism.
    so thank u VOX for this important, insightful, much forgotten history expose on ongoing struggles of Indigenous People.

  5. I am a social worker. I went to grad school and we NEVER learned about this. It’s absolutely disgusting that social workers helped remove these children. I didn’t even learn about this in my undergrad. I’m sorry 💔

  6. Lol incarceration in Alcatraz total capacity in that place was less than 2,000. The statement adds spice but loses me. I don’t like spicy info

  7. The UNITED STATES CORPORATION evilness is coming to the Light. Their Judgment is HERE!!! That is why the FED is pumping billions into Banks Daily due to the All Nations "no longer supporting United states of America Corporation" doing business At North America. I hope All the so called "blacks" realize who they are after this Video. If Not, look in the "Back" behind all the lighter skinned, thin haired so called "Indians" in the Magrib-Al-Aqsa. Most Extreme West not East where so called "India" is.

  8. This is absolutely terrible. However it must be known that the Ming Chinese are doing the same to the uyghurs in western China.

  9. Thank you for making this amazing documentary! You can see how messed up a country is by the way it treats its minorities. I hope that the US will acknowlegde all the inhumane stuff it has done and that it will stand up for Native Americans and other minorities and provide them with the rights and protection that they need and deserve.

  10. This sounds so much like what China is doing today to its Uyghurs, Why cant we learn from each others past mistakes instead of repeating them?

  11. If anyone wants to understand this at an emotional level, I recommend the movie "Rabbit Proof Fence". It's about Australian stolen children, but it shows the process that happened & how the children were treated
    The making of that film is even more harrowing, watching them film the scene where they take the children from their mothers & then watching the 8 year old actor being carried limp & lifeless off set, because she is so overwhelmed by the scene & realising this happened to thousands of children & they didn't have parents to hold & hug them after it! They were locked in cages in trains, travelling thousands of kms from their family & most would never see their mother again!

  12. So shameful.. We, the danish people, have done the same thing in Greenland.. And we still also have not apologized.. Disgrace.. 🙁

  13. I learned about all this when I was young. I don't remember if it was on my own or from where I went to school. I'm from Minnesota and we discussed alot of these things. I had native Americans in my class and they were brought out for education on there history. I think it's a way they are trying to repair what happened here

  14. My grandfather was a product of Canadian Residential Schools. Thank you for this one Vox!

    The average person has no idea about the American genocide on First Nations people. Something that has been happening for 400+ years and is still happening today!!

    🙏 thank you for educating others!

  15. “Whiteness is the standard for success and everything else is judged by that standard” is too real and aptly put.

  16. Now why don't they apply the Israel formula here?? If u ask me the Blacks & the natives suffrage is nothing less than jews. They do it in the Middle East by snatching Palestinians lands then they ought to carve out usa into 3 nations, one for native Indians, & the other for Blacks & the other as US. Face it, to this day the racism doesn't end & with such amount of evidences of historic injustices & suppression then can that victim subjected to such discrimination ever proudly & willingly swear his allegiance to the US???
    They ought to do it for the wrongs they have done & continue to do.

    Its hilarious that usa trolls & criticizes China (Xinjiang & Taiwan) & North Korea while it has a history of locking up its own citizens (American Japanese) & institutionalizing the extermination of the natives.

  17. Native Indians lived in North America for hundreds if not thousands of years before the WHITE MEN came. And now they are kept in the shadows because America is ashamed of what their forefathers have done. Native Indians deserved better.

  18. One of the largest attempts on Genocide in history. But you won't read that in our History books. Happy Thanksgiving…

  19. This should be shown in US History classes from grade school through college, but it won’t be because of the systematic control of the education system by people who want to continuously control the false narrative of the “founding” and formation of this nation.

  20. Residential schools absolutely shattered native culture in Canada. It's the reason why the majority of homeless people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are native.

  21. Descendants of the people who are native to this Continent are trying to continue to move about it while descendants of the people who colonized it are trying to stop that from happening
    Mean while they work labor intense miniscule jobs that make life easier for descendants of the colonizers
    Not recognizing Hispanics and most latinx as native Americans is a psychologically ploy to make them seem foreign when in reality they have not only be here longer but have been here forever: Colonization 2020(border wall)

  22. Oh! This is about White European Americans barging in on other races lives/countries and telling them they know better than them, and that they should be grateful that they have someone that cares? Hmm..I'm disappointed in you Vox! I thought you were going to tell something that i don't already know….

  23. This is awful. I feel bad for everyone that went through this. Every child stripped of their culture, every parent who lost their child. The US has a dark history and it’s wrong. I feel guilty for just being white. I feel guilty for supposedly having Chickasaw in my family and not learning more about it all. I have no control over the past, but I have control over my vote and how my vote affects America’s future.

  24. Apart from the united states, great britain also never "acknowledged, apologised or reconciled" in any way to the Indians of India for their horrific treatment of their people over 2 centuries of pure exploitation and cultural subjugation. Clearly if you were born "Indian" or mistaken as one, you had no human rights to begin with.

  25. Humanity has a horrible dark side and I believe history should be used as a mirror to keep us from going down that rabbit hole.

  26. If the Indian(original in Asia) population wasn't substantial at the time of British arrival, pretty sure there would still be whites swarming in India.

  27. When I was young a elder white man told me that the "white race" are actually aliens in disguise. Seems correct being the whir man has a long history of invading countries of brown skin people.

  28. I really hate America, idk how you think you're country is the greatest in the world and ignore all the atrocious acts that have been done to people that rightfully belong there.

  29. So it’s wrong to try and civilize people?
    Or is it the same story of stolen land? Whatever, it happened years ago get over it if you’re still hurt or feel like you’re owed something just get up on your feet and take it do the same thing

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