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.

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. Oh c'mon now. Natives had a long history of abducting captors, including children. If anything this seems reasonable and with-in the realm of established rules of a conflict.

  3. They forget that even with the assimilation, like for example the Cherokee tribe being assimilated, the government Still killed them and sent them onto the trail of tears. Oklahoman here.

  4. My grandmother and her brothers were one of the thousands of Native American children taken from their family. She was the youngest of 4 and my great grandparents were forced to give them up because they said my great grandfather had a drinking problem. He wasn't an alcoholic but they had nothing else to say they were neglectful. My grandmother was separated from her family for 6 years before being reunited. The government destroyed several generations of our family for their own selfish needs. She never let us forget what the government did to our family. I'll never let my kids forget either.

  5. "They tried to make us ashamed of being Indian"

    "Whiteness is the standard"

    This is the ideology Europeans spread to indigenous peoples in the colonies.

  6. Say isnt that what the chinese are doing with the Uigur population and the US condeming the chinese even though the American Government does literally the same thing with the natives, 100 years ago

  7. @2:38, cultural genocide, marginally better than the murdery kind.

    @7:00 more elaboration on the "essentially?" After all, its possible some of the adoptive parents were being genuine in adopting a child and not trying to engage in the cultural genocide (after all, intent is a key component of genocide). Also, weren't these "forgotten children" a condition created by the Dawes Act?

  8. "lawsuit……arguing that preferences given to American Indian families to adopt Indian children is unconstitutional and discriminates based on race"

    the irony blew my mind

  9. A lot of people think that the country's history was mostly benevolent. Most don't know about the ugliness or the extent of the ugliness of American history.

  10. The achivements of your ancestors and their sins are one package. Dont ever say your proud of your nation if your not going to admit they done some inhumane BS.

  11. Do you think VOX will ever do a positive video about the US? Mistakes and issues are good to understand and all, but what have we as a country done RIGHT?

  12. Your only now talking about this?!

    edit: ok I am glad your talking about this so more people know. This stuff happens to my grandmas and grandpas and affects basically every native in all of Northern America

  13. Wait why are indians in America mixed with native American i am confused did they went there in 17th century from the Indian subcontinent i am missing context.

  14. The assimilation of Aboriginal peoples are not unique to the US. In fact, Canada, Australia, and a lot of South American nations have worse records of abuse towards them in terms of institutionalization

  15. I said this in a reply but wanted to post it here.
    I am white as white and I hate that terminology as Idian as well. My uncle is Native American and therefore my cousins. I find it disgusting that they are unable to embrace their culture and heritage as well as their identity. They are the people of this continent and there is so much to learn from them and I enjoy so much visiting the reservations for events. I may have started to go for the food when I was a kid (it is amazing) but as I grew older I made it a point to visit as much as possible and learn as much as possible. One of my most spiritual visits was a day in a traditional sweat lodge with grandfather stones. Sitting on the ground in that heat listening, hearing, and finding enlightenment. The amount of racism and ultimately the amount of unjustifiable behaviour by our government I will never understand.

  16. The arrogance of 'good' christians never ceases to amaze me. How I wish we could just install an indian President and let them have at us. Our silence and apathy deserve nothing less.

  17. This makes me hate the country I love because we keep taking from them. The white people were given an inch and took more than a mile then took everything…. the government should be on trial for not even doing anything better for our native instead we keep taking land for oil and then leaving them with nothing else.

  18. White people are the most destructive of them all. Sad to see how far many will go in lengths to defend their ancestors

  19. everytime I hear american Indian i think of people like me who are people from india who naturalized in US and then remember yall mean native people.

  20. I am a Sociology student who has done a lot of work regarding Native Americans. This video is a great visual representation of historical events that are often glossed over in many classrooms. From Pratt and his "schools" to the modern settlements that the government has ruled in favor of Native Americans but fails to allocate the resources they are given by the courts, NA are often very underrepresented.

  21. Deuteronomy 28
    7 The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.

  22. Deuteronomy 28

    48 Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.

  23. Indians Thank to be stolen? Right. China build railroad and highways in Xinjian. People also get job training. But China is not doing it right. Uighur are allowed to keep their culture and religion.

  24. Makes you laugh how indigenous people are continually stripped of their cultural identity but 1000s of white Americans are doing DNA tests every day to get their "I'm 0.000345% South African" bragging rights.

  25. I hate how Trump wants to get rid of all immigrants yet he himself is a descendant from one as the only true Americans are the Native Americans. The white Europeans took their land and lives from them.

  26. How could those white adoptive parents ever live with themselves? They are stealing children from other people and by doing so violated their basic human rights. Have they no shame? What a bunch of delusional, selfish, sociopathic child snatchers.

  27. No offense but, as terrible as this is, this is not "genocide". These children were not being killed, simply taught a different culture. At worst, you have to call this "cultural eratication", not "genocide".
    Words have to mean something, or they stop meaning anything.

  28. The arrogant, ignorant white supremacists supported by the 15th century Christian Church Doctrine of Discovery! Horrible and disgraceful actions against non-Christian! I don't believe this is what Jesus wanted. I do believe we can end this NOW.

  29. .There is no freedom given to the indigenous people of the usa (the so called super power of the world), then where is freedom ?. thats the way a colonisers act to tame the natives for their own greed.

  30. Be aware that it was the same organisation "US Army" who invaded lands and did all these crimes.
    It's funny that today they try to hide the history and present the "US Army" as peace makers!!

  31. the parallels between this video, and the stolen generation in Australia, are just too similar and heartbreaking and real. I'm so sorry this happened to you all. For better or worse, you are not alone.

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