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On the Borders of Love and Power Families and Kinship in the Intercultural American Southwest

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Breaking and Remaking Families

The Fostering and Adoption of Native American Children in Non-Native Families in the American West, 1880-1940

Margaret Jacobs

In the late nineteenth century, Mary Dissette, a single missionary and schoolteacher at Zuni Pueblo, adopted a Zuni girl named Daisy. After her tenure at Zuni, Dissette settled in Santa Fe, where she bought an adobe house and a large orchard with the intent of taking in "a dozen Indian girls from the different pueblos and teach[ing] them practical domestic industries, especially spinning, weaving, horticulture and poultry raising." Dissette asked the Women's National Indian Association (WNIA) for their help in establishing her home as a school. "It is because I know I can raise girls, Indian girls, to be true, loving, useful women, that I want to try my hands on more," Dissette told the WNIA. In 1904 she informed the WNIA that she had taken "legal control of three Indian waifs and placed two of them in the Albuquerque Boarding School." Ultimately, according to one of her friends, Dissette "adopted and educated out of her own slender earnings, five Pueblo Indian children."

Over the last fifteen years, as I have researched white women's interactions with Indian people at the turn of the twentieth century, I have found many instances of white women like Dissette who adopted Indian children. In most cases, I have only the barest of references to such adoptions, usually told solely from the viewpoint of the white women themselves. I sense there are important stories to be told here, stories of love and intimacy in the forming of new families, but also stories of grief and loss in the breaking of Indian families. Such stories link love and power, the private and the public, the family and the state; they offer a poignant example of what noted scholar of colonialism Ann Laura Stoler calls the "intimacies of empire." The federal government asserted such a degree of power over Indian peoples at the turn of the twentieth century that it could interfere even in the most intimate sites of Indian families; its power could and did sever ties of love. But love also complicated such brute power; many white women such as Dissette truly cared for the Indian children they adopted, and many Indian children loved their adoptive families.

Such stories of love and power connect the era of assimilation to the late twentieth century, when the fostering and adoption of Indian children within non-Native families had become a common practice. In 1969, at the request of the Devils Lake Sioux tribe of North Dakota to conduct an investigation, the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) found that in most states with large American Indian populations, 25 to 35 percent of Indian children had been separated from their families and placed in foster or adoptive homes or in institutions such as boarding schools. In a follow-up state-by-state statistical analysis of Indian child welfare conducted in 1976, the AAIA found that in every state with a significant Indian population, Indian children were placed in foster care or in adoptive homes at a per capita rate far higher than that of non-Indian children.

The AAIA and many other Indian groups lobbied the federal government to enact legislation that would reverse this practice. The result was the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, which gave tribal courts jurisdiction over most cases involving the fostering or adoption of Indian children and prioritized the placement of Indian children with relatives, tribal members, or other Indian families. Given the shockingly high estimates of Indian children who had been fostered or adopted outside their communities, and the significance of the ICWA, surprisingly little historical research has been done on this topic.

In this chapter I explore the genealogy of this widespread practice and find that its roots extend deep into the late nineteenth century and are entangled with the intensive participation of white women in enacting assimilation policy. Many white women developed commonplace images of unfit Indian mothers and neglected Indian children and practiced a politics of maternalism that often included the informal adoption of Indian children. In most cases, white women had their own very personal and laudable reasons for adopting Indian children; they undoubtedly acted out of real love. Yet their participation in the pathologizing of Indian families and the removal of their children reinforced the power and the policy aims of the state, aims that threatened the viability of Native families and communities. Moreover, white women who wished to adopt Indian children benefited from the assimilation policies of the state, policies that promoted the removal of American Indian children to boarding schools and facilitated their fostering and adoption by non-Indian families. To exert its power, the state, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), also found white women's interest in Indian children useful and exploited white women's maternalist impulses. Thus when white women and their families adopted Indian children, no hard and fast border existed between love and power; the two became inextricably muddled.

The practice of fostering and adopting out Indian children to non-Indian families created shifting intimate allegiances. Thus this chapter also attempts to understand this phenomenon from multiple perspectives: from that of the non-Native families who brought Indian children into their lives, from that of the children who were displaced from their Native families and communities but formed new intimacies, and from that of the Indian families and communities whose intimate relationships were profoundly disturbed. I begin with an overview of the white women who adopted Indian children at the turn of the twentieth century, how they obtained children, and what motivated them. I then turn to several case studies told as much as possible from the vantage point of Indian children. I end by briefly addressing the viewpoints of Indian families whose children were adopted.


Adoption was not a new phenomenon to American Indian peoples. As historian Marilyn Irvin Holt writes, "It was a fiber of tribal life that intertwined the needs of an individual with a group." In some cases, biological parents consented to have another family raise their child, often when a family had lost a child or when a medical practitioner healed a sick child. For example, Hopi Edmund Nequatewa's grandfather, who had "put a claim on [him] when [he] was sick," gained the right under Hopi custom to guide the boy's upbringing. Moreover, it was common for grandparents and other extended family members to participate in the rearing of children so that they could easily step in should a child's biological parents die or be unable to care for them. Among the Navajos, for example, according to Left Handed, "'Mother' refers to a great many other women besides one's real mother. In fact, wishing to distinguish his [biological] mother from among all these other women, ... a Navaho [sic] must state explicitly, 'my real mother,' or use some such ... phrase as, 'she who gave me birth.'" These intricate kinship systems assured that few Indian children were ever left truly orphaned.

The practice of non-Indian families adopting Indian children took on a quite different quality. Beginning in the colonial period, many non-Indian families adopted children primarily to fill labor needs. Up to the late nineteenth century the adoption of Indian children by non-Indian families in the West grew out of the captive trade, practiced widely by many Native peoples, Spanish colonists, and subsequent Mexican and Anglo settlers. Early Mormon settlers in Utah, for example, adopted Indian children by purchasing them from Indian or Mexican slave traders or directly from their parents. In most cases the Indian children were required to pay back their purchase price through laboring for their Mormon families for up to twenty years. Similarly, the 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians enabled California settlers to adopt and indenture Indian children. Military leaders also sometimes adopted Indian children in the early nineteenth century; most famously, after vanquishing a resistant band of Creeks in the Redstick Wars, Andrew Jackson adopted a Creek boy as a "trophy of war." Some non-Indians may have sought guardianship of Indian children as a means of gaining property, too. In Washington territory, for example, four children of an Indian woman who had been widowed were appointed a white male guardian to oversee the property they had inherited, valued at about a thousand dollars.

Although these earlier adoptions seem to have been based primarily on practical economic concerns and assertions of myriad forms of power-military, judicial, patriarchal-over Indian labor and lands, it would be a mistake to see them as relationships that tilted entirely toward power and involved no love, affection, or sentiment. As Sherry Smith finds in her book on army perceptions of American Indians in the nineteenth century, many army officers were moved by a sense of responsibility or compassion to take "orphaned" or lost Indian children into their families, temporarily or permanently, after battles against Indian peoples.

By the late nineteenth century, many adoptive parents adopted children for more emotional reasons. This may have been due to a change in families and households that accompanied industrialization and the rise of the middle class: a shift from patriarchal utilitarian productive households to nuclear families with a smaller number of children. With this shift came a new emphasis on the family as a site for the fulfillment of sentimental needs and the investiture of middle-class women with new domestic duties and intensive maternal responsibilities. Although some families undoubtedly continued to adopt children to fulfill their labor needs, middle-class ideals about adoption gained increasing prominence. These ideals focused not only on the child that needed a home but also on the home and the mother that needed the child.

Although most adoption historians characterize transracial adoption as a phenomenon of the 1960s and beyond, many white families and single white women were drawn to adopting Indian children in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Military officers and their wives often had opportunities to adopt Indian children. In the case of the Lakota infant Lost Bird, or Zintka Nuni, Brigadier General Leonard Colby, Civil War hero and commander of the Nebraska National Guard, had been headquartered twenty-six miles south of the Pine Ridge Reservation when the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 occurred. When he led his unit to Pine Ridge, Colby bargained to obtain the infant girl, recovered from under her dead mother's frozen body four days after the massacre, as "an Indian relic" and a gift for Clara, his wife of eight years. Before others could obtain the valued little girl (the Ghost Dance camp of Lakotas tried to keep her, Buffalo Bill Cody had tried to obtain her for a hunting buddy, and Cody's manager hoped to exhibit her in the Wild West Show), the general brought her to his home in Beatrice, Nebraska, and legally adopted her. 

White women married to traders on Indian reservations also lived in close proximity to Indian people and in some instances adopted Indian children. Louisa Wade Wetherill, wife of the longtime trader John Wetherill, adopted two Navajo children, Betty and Frances, into their home at Kayenta, Arizona. Betty Wetherill Rodgers, a Navajo woman who was born around 1915, experienced removal from her family first to a boarding school: "I was born at Lukachukai.... And then ... , my Navajo family ... , after I was a few years old, came to Kayenta.... And then I was taken from my Navajo people. Then, the government just went out and just took kids to put 'em in school.... I don't know why they picked me. I was just a baby. But I was placed at Tuba City.... I was there 'til I was about four." Rodgers adds, "They were very mean to us. When we'd run away, or even speak a word of Navajo, they'd just more or less beat us.... I never did like it there. They just treated us like prisoners or something."

In the book she wrote with Frances Gillmor, Wetherill also spoke of tensions between the federal government and the Navajos over the Tuba City school. When fifty Navajo children showed up at a day school in Kayenta that could hold only thirty, the government insisted on sending the twenty extra children to the Tuba City boarding school. The Navajos opposed this and convinced Wetherill to teach them English at the trading post.

In her interview, Rodgers claims that Louisa Wetherill visited the Navajo children at the Tuba City school frequently and was appalled at the treatment of the children. As Rodgers explains, "She came over there and found that they were treating the Navajo children real bad.... So she thought, 'Well, this is gonna stop!' So she went to Washington and told the president what was goin' on among the Navajos, and so she put a stop to all that. Everybody at Tuba then was fired and ran off." Thereafter, according to Rodgers, Wetherill's older daughter (Georgia Ida) became "matron to the Navajo girls.... She took care of us, 'cause she spoke the Navajo language pretty well herself."

Wetherill, however, tells a different story of how she adopted Betty. According to Wetherill, prior to Betty she had already adopted two other Indian children, Esther and Fanny, daughters of a Ute Indian woman captive-or slave, as Wetherill called her-who had married a Navajo man. The Wetherills had first adopted Esther from her Ute mother. Later, in the early 1920s, the Ute woman stopped the Wetherills as they were driving and complained to them that her Navajo husband was mistreating her and her daughter. The Wetherills "took the slave woman and her baby back with them. When the slave woman made arrangements to go to other hogans, and did not want the responsibility of her child, she begged them to take the baby as they had taken Esther for their own." The Wetherills, on their way to Tucson for Louisa to lecture at the university that winter, enrolled Esther at the Tuba City school and arranged for the baby, Fanny, to be boarded there as well. They picked the two girls up in the spring and took them back to the trading post in Kayenta. But Esther had contracted tuberculosis in boarding school, a fate that was all too common for many Indian children, and was later sent to a sanitarium in Phoenix, where she died. "With a heavy heart," laden with both guilt and grief, Wetherill agreed to adopt another child, Betty. As she describes it, "When in 1922, the authorities at Tuba City asked her to adopt a little girl away from the school who was unhappy there, she had the child brought home to [Kayenta]. Soon it was said in the hogans of the People that Asthon Sosi and Hosteen John [the Wetherills] had taken another Navajo girl for their own. Betty and Fanny were the Wetherill's children, now that [their older children Ben and Georgia Ida] had married and were so much away."

Though Betty Rodgers (and perhaps Louisa Wetherill as well) was critical of the care she received in boarding school, many female boarding school teachers also adopted children in their care. For example, Miss Hope Ghiselin, who taught Apaches at a BIA school in San Carlos, Arizona, wrote to the WNIA, "I came here in May [18]87 and have not ceased since then to beg first for one girl and then for another. Finally as an especial favor, Captain Bullis, our agent, gave me one for my last Thanksgiving Day gift." Ghiselin also "acquired" another child when the resident doctor asked her if she could take in an "orphan." "I named [her] ... Lizzie Owing for my mother, and hope if possible to have her always with me; I love her so." No less a figure than Estelle Reel, superintendent of Indian education from 1898 to 1910, also adopted an Indian girl. Reel kept an "orphaned Aleut girl during the summers. The girl was attending Indian schools in Oregon and Washington." Notably, Ghiselin, Reel, and many other white women who adopted Indian children were single.

Idealistic women reformers in the late nineteenth century were also drawn to adopting Indian children. Mary Duggan, a feminist and advocate for Indians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, lived with her brother, the physician Cornelius Duggan, on Riverside Drive in New York City. According to Bonita Wa Wa Calachaw, the Indian girl she adopted, Duggan was "a humanitarian. Always she was doing things for the forsaken Indian." Duggan attended club meetings of "Women that called themselves the New Thought members" and took part in the Psychic Society. By adopting Wa Wa Chaw, as she became known, Duggan seemed to believe she was fulfilling a higher purpose. As Wa Wa Chaw saw it, "Mother Mary Duggan Knew that when she took me in her arms that she was helping a common Cause."

Although some white women (and men) legally adopted Indian children, the process by which the custody of an Indian child transferred from their Indian family to their white guardians was often informal. Although Lakota people had sought to keep Zintka Nuni, Leonard Colby was able to bargain for her and spirit her away to Beatrice, Nebraska. Nebraska law required the voluntary relinquishment of a child by its parents or guardian before adoption could take place, but the judge who approved her adoption by the Colbys did not require the presence or testimony of any Lakota relatives. Colby had not taken pains to find the birth father of the child, and the judge seems to have assumed that both parents of Lost Bird had died. Neither Colby nor the judge considered Indian conceptions of adoption that would have placed Lost Bird with extended family members or other members of the tribe.

In her oral history interview, Betty Rodgers describes the very casual process by which she began to live with the Wetherills at age four:

So when summer came, my foster mother ... Mrs. Wetherill, said, "I think I'll just take this little girl home." ... Of course I was kind of shy and scared, you know, of the white people then. She asked me if I wanted to go home with her, and of course I didn't just right off say yes or nothing. She just said, "Well, you can just go home with us any time." So after a few weeks or so, one day she had sent for me, and there was her nephews, sons-in-law, ... driving trucks, ... carrying mail and carrying supplies ... through the reservation.... So she told these guys to pick me up. So ... one day one of 'em ... said, "I'm takin' this little Navajo girl home. I'm taking her to Mrs. Wetherill at Kayenta." So ... I thought, "Well, I guess it's all right," so I just went with him.... And that's when I started living with the Wetherills.... That was way back when I was four years old.

Although Louisa Wetherill's story of Betty's adoption differs, it is equally vague. The adoption is arranged through the boarding school and neither the authorities nor Wetherill mentions the wishes of Betty's parents and family.

Bonita Wa Wa Calachaw's adoption was equally ad hoc. She was allegedly born on Christmas Day in 1888 in the southern California desert to a woman who may have been a member of the Rincon band of the Luiseño people. According to Wa Wa Chaw, Mary Duggan was "passing through California on her way East and, having to make connections for her return home, had to wait for two or three days.... Wandering along the roads, ... [she] stopped at a wooden shack. And in that shack was My real Mother Indian having labor pains. Mother Mary Duggan took things into her hands and in a few minutes I was born. Mother gave Me to her [Duggan]." Wa Wa Chaw concluded, "I was born of the curse of being poor, My real Mother having to part with a new born child."

As these stories reveal, the adoption of Indian children seemed to take place offhandedly, with very little concern for the rights or feelings of Indian families. An attitude that Indian children were free for the taking seemed to prevail. For example, when Mrs. Oresmus Boyd, the wife of a cavalry officer, encountered Paiute and Shoshone Indians in Nevada, she wrote, "In one of their camps, I found a beautiful dark-eyed baby boy, to whom I paid frequent visits, which were at first well received. But one day I carried the child a neat little dress-my own handiwork-and before arraying baby in it gave him a bath, which evidently caused his mother to decide that I had sinister designs upon her prize, for on subsequent visits no trace of the baby could ever be found." Mrs. Boyd felt entitled to take over as mother of this boy. She felt sure that "had his sex been different I probably could have obtained complete possession; but boys are highly prized among the Indians." Interestingly, while stationed in Arizona, Mrs. Boyd balked when local Pima and Maricopa Indian women admired her own child. "Every night when we pitched our tents," she recounted, "the [Indian] women would crowd about and indulge in ecstasies over the little white baby.... I never permitted any of them to touch baby, being afraid to do so." Boyd's double standard seems to have been shared by a large number of white women reformers; white children belonged with and to their white mothers but Indian children would be better off under the care of white women.

Why was the adoption of Indian children carried out in such a seemingly informal manner? Certainly, this was an era in which many adoptions were unregulated. It was not until 1929 that all states had enacted adoption laws that authorized courts to formally transfer the custody of children from their biological parents to their adoptive parents. Nevertheless, most states had enacted such laws by 1900. It appears that even after 1900, however, adoptive parents rarely felt the need to apply for the legal custody of Indian children. This is likely due to the predominant ideas about Indian families in this era of assimilation policy. Arguing that Indian families stymied the assimilation of Indian children, many if not most government officials, missionaries, and reformers believed it best that Indian children be separated from their parents and families and institutionalized in boarding schools. By 1902 about 17,700 Indian children attended one of the more than 150 federally run Indian boarding schools. This practice created a climate in which the separation of children from their families became naturalized. Moreover, as with the case of Betty Rodgers above and the large numbers of white women schoolteachers who adopted Indian children, the removal of children to boarding school was closely linked to adoption in a very concrete way.

In these instances it is quite difficult to ascertain the extent to which Indian parents gave genuine consent to the adoption of their children. In many cases they had not even consented to their children attending boarding schools. Over many decades, when many Indian parents proved unwilling to send their children to distant schools, the BIA had resorted to various coercive means, including trickery, threats, withholding rations, bribes, or the use of police or military force. Once confined to a boarding school, an Indian child's status in relation to his or her parents became increasingly tenuous. Rarely could parents bring their children home when they wished. Thus the apparent ease with which many white women adopted Indian children was integrally related to existing practices of Indian child removal to boarding schools.

Moreover, the BIA's vision of the role of boarding school matrons and female teachers as surrogate mothers to removed Indian children led logically to the fostering and adoption of Indian children by white women teachers and white families more generally. As I detail in White Mother to a Dark Race and as Cathleen Cahill explores in this volume, the government deemed white women as the ideal caretakers for removed Indian children within the boarding schools. White women matrons and teachers would take the place of supposedly unfit Indian mothers, introducing Indian girls to appropriate domestic standards and maternal skills. It was thus no coincidence that a large number of white women teachers and matrons within the Indian boarding schools adopted Indian children.

In some cases, white women may have obtained at least informal Indian consent for the adoption of their children. Tesbah, a Navajo (Diné) woman, for example, after delivering a baby boy at home and laboring for several more days before delivering a baby girl in the hospital, believed, "The baby girl has killed me." She instructed her family, "Do not keep her in the family to raise with our other children, as she will bring bad luck to the family. Give her to the white people to raise." Tesbah died the next day and her infant boy a few days later. Kay Bennett, another Navajo woman, remembered, "A childless couple that ran a trading post had gladly accepted the baby girl to raise as their own." In other cases, Indian families may have incorporated white women into their own kinship systems and therefore regarded them as appropriate adopters of their children. This may have been true for Louisa Wetherill, who learned the Navajo language and many facets of Navajo culture, attended Navajo ceremonies, and was adopted by the tribe. Unlike white women in other colonial settings, too, Wetherill did not object to close contact between the Navajo and her two birth children. "The People were their friends, the country of the People, their home," she explained. "And so familiar was the Navajo tongue to them that sometimes Little Girl [Wetherill's oldest daughter] ... would fall naturally into the Navajo speech and would break off to ask in a puzzled fashion-'How do you say that in English?'" In many instances, Navajo people living in the vicinity of the Wetherill trading post at Kayenta brought ill people to be nursed or cured by Asthon Sosi, or Slim Woman, as the Navajos called Wetherill, and Wetherill claims that she "became known as the Little Mother of the Navajos." Documentary traces of Indian adoption suggest, however, that such voluntary relinquishment was less common than white women obtaining children through other means.

Although men such as Leonard Colby were sometimes involved in the adoption of Indian children, it was more often white women who initiated adoptions and cared for the children. Middle-class gender and racial ideologies converged to influence white women to adopt Indian children. Ideals of maternalism extolled motherhood as women's highest calling and justified middle-class, and mostly white, women's political and social reform activity on behalf of other women. As Claudia Nelson explains, adoptive motherhood enabled women to gain public recognition and to signify their social, moral, and financial status. Moreover, the power of maternalism may have swayed many single women (some of whom lived in long-term relationships with other women) to adopt children, a phenomenon that was socially acceptable before the 1920s.In many cases of Indian adoption, it was, indeed, single white women who adopted Indian children, usually Indian girls, perhaps signifying a means by which unconventional white women who had avoided marriage could still raise children. These white women were forming new families in the American West, maternalist families that were modeled on the utopian male-free communal families of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, not the patriarchal families from which most of these middle-class white women came. Although such a move could be seen as radical, it could also be reconciled to more conservative views of women-that even a "spinster" felt the tug of maternity and needed to fill her God-given role.

To some extent, practical considerations may have influenced single women in choosing Indian children. First, prospective adoptive parents complained that there was a "baby shortage" in this period, due in part to the reluctance of orphanages to place children up for adoption. Most children in orphanages were not true orphans, but rather children whose parents had fallen on hard times. Most social workers believed-at least when it came to white children-that they should be reunited with their birth parents if possible. Many prospective adopters feared that if they adopted from an orphanage the birth parents would one day seek to reclaim their children. In addition, confusion and conflict between adoption laws and institutional policies could discourage those who obtained children from orphanages from legally adopting them. Some families also balked at the costs, $10 to $25, that were associated with legal adoption.

By adopting Indian children, adopters could bypass such obstacles. First, because Indian parents and extended family members were often isolated on reservations and in many cases already cut off from their children, adoptive parents had less fear that Indian birth parents would reclaim their children. Second, as most adoptions became more formalized in the 1920s and '30s and social workers clamored for increased control over the placement of non-Indian adoptive children, the informal adoption of Indian children remained relatively free of state regulation and the intervention of child placement workers. Moreover, many social service professionals became unwilling to place children with single women. Scholar Julie Berebitsky found that as sexual and gender norms changed in the 1920s to include the labeling and stigmatization of lesbianism, most child welfare workers opposed the placement of adopted children with single women. The adoption of an Indian child would have been one way for a single white woman to circumvent such biases.

Intertwining racial and gender ideologies regarding Indian people as savages in need of rescue and white women as civilizers also played into white women's motivations for adopting Indian children. In the nineteenth century, courts routinely considered Indianness itself to be grounds for granting guardianship of Indian children to non-Indians. For example, in one probate case in Washington territory, a young white man who had fathered a child with an Indian woman petitioned the court to have his child apprenticed to another white man because he was "desirous of having [the] child protected and cared for and not permitted to become an Indian by living among them." The judge granted the petition without consulting with the child's Indian mother. In several other cases, petitioners portrayed Indian women as unfit guardians for their own children and often accused them of having bad morals, including drinking alcohol, being promiscuous, and engaging in prostitution. One court document portrayed an Indian woman as having no home, "and ... now living on the beach, as is the manner of her people; and who is not a fit and proper person to have the care of guardianship" of her own daughter.

White women often portrayed their adoption of Indian children as an act of rescue, welcomed by the child and often initiated by some family members. In the case of a Navajo girl known as Grace Segar, a missionary stated that "this young girl came to us at the age of about eight years, wrapped in an old blanket. She was given to us in all probability because her mother did not want her to become the plural wife of her stepfather." Although it is possible that in some cases indigenous women may have used white women to protect or shelter their children, this type of statement was part of a larger maternalist discourse that commonly represented American Indian women and gender relations in a negative light.

Indeed, the rhetoric of rescue was based on and reinforced a pathological view of Indian families and Indian motherhood. Many white women missionaries, teachers, and reformers who encountered Indian peoples in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries regarded several facets of Indian family life-unfamiliar Indian gender relations, Indian women's active physical labor, and the presence of some polygamous unions, for example-as signs that Indian families were unfit to care for their children. Because Indian families did not always conform to the standard of the nuclear family customary among white middle-class Americans, many white women deemed indigenous children orphans. For instance, Mary Collins wrote for the WNIA publication, "Unfortunately, among [the Sioux] almost every woman and man is married more than once, and the children of these various marriages, though often both parents may be living, are really orphans." White women rarely recognized the role that extended family members played in the upbringing of children. Thus when an Alaska Native girl's mother and father died, a reformer believed "she had no one to love her until one day, when she found her way into a mission school," where the teacher "kept her and took care of her as if she were her own daughter."

Notions of rescue led many white women to support policies that called for the removal of Indian children to boarding schools and to believe that Indian children would be better off brought up in white families than raised among their own kin. Despite the obvious ethnocentrism of white women's viewpoints, they saw themselves as racially enlightened and progressive. Compared to many Americans, perhaps they were. Susan B. Anthony, for example, objected to Clara Colby's decision to raise Lost Bird, or Zintka, partly on the basis that it would distract her from her suffrage activism, but also on the grounds that Zintka was an "untutored Indian girl." Other suffrage activists similarly disapproved of Clara's adoption of an Indian child. In the early twentieth century, when an increasingly shrill hereditarian and eugenicist discourse claimed that Indians and other "non-Aryan stock" were genetically inferior to the Anglo-Saxon "race," the stance of many white women who adopted Indian children was, in many ways, a refreshing alternative.

Undoubtedly, most white women who adopted Indian children considered themselves to have the purest and most altruistic of motives; many, indeed, loved the Indian children they fostered and adopted. And it is likely that in many cases adopted Indian children gained greater access to education, healthcare, and an improved standard of living through living with white women. But it is also inescapable that white women's involvement in the adoption of Indian children inadvertently supported the state aims of undermining Indian identities and thereby consolidating control over Indian lands. In this era the government had adopted a number of measures to reduce the land base of Indian peoples and to sever the ties between generations, ostensibly in order to facilitate the assimilation of Indians. The Dawes Act, through the allotment of communally held land to individual Indians, transferred some ninety million acres of land to non-Natives for settlement and development. The network of boarding schools removed children during the most crucial years of their social and cultural upbringing and sought to undermine their Indian identities, identities that enabled them to claim land. The adoption of Indian children, although on a much smaller scale than the boarding schools, intersected with the state's assertions of power to obliterate Indian identities and extinguish Indian claims to land. In the late twentieth century, when fostering and adoption became common and was coupled with efforts to involuntarily sterilize Native American women, the federal government still seemed bent on destroying Indian identities and land claims.

The promotion of the fostering and adoption of indigenous children was not limited to the American West. In other settler colonies and nations, including Canada and Australia, the practice was also widespread, suggesting that it is a phenomenon closely associated with the project of settler colonialism. In settler colonies, colonizing powers have sought to engineer the transfer of land from indigenous peoples to settlers. To do so, they enact polices that promote the growth and expansion of the "white" settler population (as, for example, the Homestead Act did) as well as the elimination of the indigenous population. Disease and military campaigns may have brought about the elimination of many indigenous people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the West (as in Canada and Australia), but such frontier violence became increasingly morally untenable. Policies that culturally eliminated Indian people through assimilation became the preferred method of enabling the dispossession of indigenous people in the late nineteenth century and beyond. These policies increasingly enacted colonial relations on a most intimate scale-through sexual liaisons, but also through the rearing of children. It is important to keep this larger backdrop in mind as we study the adoptive families that white women and Indian children formed.


Obviously, many white women developed deep affection for the young Indian girls (and less often boys) they brought into their homes and with whom they created alternative families. For example, Mary Dissette told the WNIA in 1902 that "my own little Indian girl [Daisy] ... is my greatest earthly comfort and blessing." If we are to believe Dissette, her relationship with Daisy was mutually satisfying. In 1924 she told an associate, "I am just as fond of her as ever, and I believe she is just as devoted and loyal to me." In 1904 she adopted another Indian girl, a three-year-old baby, which she put in the care of Daisy. Dissette wrote, "It is very gratifying to see Daisy's willingness to pass on to another helpless orphan the care and affection which she has had, and which have borne such rich fruit in her own transfigured life. Daisy assures me that her baby Dorothy will 'come out all right.'" We need to know more from Daisy's point of view to truly understand the nature of this relationship, yet indigenous children's points of view are difficult to find.

One exception is that of Betty Rodgers, who was interviewed for United Indian Traders Association Oral History Project in 1999. Rodgers describes her life with the Wetherills briefly and in glowing terms: "Well, they raised me then, and took care of me, and treated me just like one of their own.... Her [Mrs. Wetherill's] kids was already grown men and women.... So I stayed there and she had another Navajo girl. Her name is Frances [Fanny].... So it was her and I that were raised by Mrs. Wetherill. She tried to raise other Navajo kids, but they either died or didn't want to live with them or something. But anyway, we were very fortunate, me and her." Rodgers particularly recalled meeting "all kinds of great people. There were all kinds of artists, writers, painters, and movie stars. So many people like that, that I had met from the time I was growing up there, and it was really something, being with those people, because my foster father then used to take 'em on trips to the Rainbow Bridge." Rodgers and her sister Fanny went to grade school in Kayenta, which she remembered fondly: "We had it made then. We had this wonderful person that came there and taught us all of our grade years, 'til we finished the eighth grade." Rodgers and her sister then went to live with their adoptive sister in Mesa, Arizona, where they attended high school and she met her white husband, with whom she established a trading post on the Navajo reservation. In her interview, Rodgers emphasized love, not power. [Place figure 1.2 near here.]

Other adopted Indian children struggled much more than Betty Rodgers appears to; for Lost Bird, or Zintka Nuni, assertions of power were as common as expressions of love and affection in the Colby family. Zintka witnessed the gendered power dynamics that rocked the relationship between her adoptive parents. General Colby adopted Lost Bird without consulting with his wife; in Washington, D.C., Clara Colby learned of the adoption by telegram three days after the fact. Clara Colby was an unusual woman; she was based with her husband at their home in Beatrice for six months of the year, where she edited the preeminent suffrage newspaper, The Woman's Tribune, but the rest of the year she worked as a lobbyist for woman's suffrage in Washington. Although General Colby ordered Clara home from her suffrage work to take care of the infant, Clara did not return until more than four months later. Throughout Zintka's life, Clara continued her suffrage activism, often leaving home for months at a time on speaking tours. Zintka shuttled between homes in Beatrice, Nebraska, and Washington. The Colbys hired a young woman, Maud Miller, to take care of Zintka. Maud became pregnant within a few years of beginning her employment. The father? General Colby. Clara and the general separated, after which he lived openly with Maud while failing to financially support Zintka. The general repeatedly tried to obtain a divorce from Clara, who finally agreed in the early 1900s. By this time Clara had moved to Portland, Oregon, to carry out her suffrage work. The general ignored his commitment to paying alimony and child support, and Clara and Zintka lived on the brink of poverty the rest of their lives. Through a complicated scheme, Maud inherited half a million dollars, after which the general married her.

Despite the unsettled nature of Zintka's home life, real love and affection clearly existed between her and Clara. As a teenager, when she was in boarding school, Zintka wrote a series of poignant letters to Clara. "I must come home, for if I don't I shall die of grief," she wrote in one letter. Suffering from a series of health problems, Zintka declared, "You know precious I can not bear to have any take care of me when I am sick but you for when I am sick you know I always come and sit on your [lap] for you to hug." In a powerless situation-stuck in a boarding school against her will-Zintka used her expressions of love in hopes of swaying her mother to bring her home: "I have no one to love or to love me."

Clara's love and affection were not enough to protect Zintka from other power dynamics. Widespread racial prejudice and discrimination contributed to Zintka's troubled experience. Whether in Beatrice, Washington, or the home of her cousins in Wisconsin, Zintka endured ostracism and ridicule from white children. One cousin taunted her, "Yer ma's a dirty squaw." Another purposely abandoned her in a violent storm. White girls at the public school in Beatrice openly shunned her. In segregated turn-of-the-twentieth-century Washington, she endured racial slurs. Even from Clara she faced prejudice and confusing messages. In Washington, she found companionship among the children who played in the alley that ran behind her mother's home. When Zintka brought home a new black friend, her mother would not let her friend in the door and forbid Zintka from playing in the alley.

From an early age Zintka learned the racial codes of her day. When the consul of Madagascar and his wife visited the Colbys in Washington, Zintka stared at them for many minutes and confided to them, "Don't worry, I'm not white either." She sought out others who were "not white." With Clara frequently gone, Zintka continued to make friends among African American children. When she attended the Pan-America Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, she spent hours with a group of Lakota dancers.

Although Zintka sought out the company of Indians and especially Lakota people, her parents initially tried to prevent such associations. When she experienced troubles in public school and was then expelled from two private schools, Clara enrolled her at Bishop William Hare's All Saints School, a boarding school in South Dakota that catered primarily to white girls and the daughters of Native clergy. Yet, without financial support from the general, Clara could not afford to continue to send Zintka to the school. Moreover, Zintka was miserable there, at one point sending Clara a thirty-page letter requesting that she be allowed to leave the school. Unable to pay the school fees, Clara then sent Zintka to a series of federal Indian boarding schools, all of which were free: the Chamberlain School in South Dakota, Chemawa in Salem, Oregon, and Haskell Institute in Kansas. When Zintka started writing in a kind of Indian slang from Chemawa, Clara feared that the boarding schools had been a bad influence on Zintka.

As she grew older, Zintka rejected the assimilated identity her adoptive parents had promoted. She longed to find her relatives and to associate with members of her tribe. The only boarding school in which she felt at ease was Chamberlain, where she met children of her own tribal background. Zintka ran away from Chemawa, making her way back to South Dakota in search of lost relatives. On many other occasions in her life she gravitated back to South Dakota, and for a year she lived with a Lakota couple who claimed her as their own and enabled her to attain an allotment of land on the Standing Rock Reservation. Zintka also took on a pan-Indian identity and became a professional Indian. She joined a number of Wild West shows, including Buffalo Bill Cody's, worked as the Indian mascot for the Nation of the Lakotah, a white sportsmen's club in Seattle, and journeyed to Hollywood to appear as an extra in several early silent movie westerns.

Zintka rebelled against middle-class gender ideals as well. While in her father's care she became pregnant. He institutionalized her in the Milford Industrial Home, formerly the Nebraska Maternity Home, near Lincoln. Within a month of entering the institution Zintka delivered a stillborn infant, but her father refused to pay the fees for nursing school that would have allowed Zintka to leave the institution. Instead she was forced to stay there eleven more months. Subsequently she had a series of short marriages and had two more children. One of her husbands gave her syphilis, which blinded her in one eye within a few years. Living in dire poverty with a sick husband in the San Joaquin Valley in the late 1910s, one of her children died and she relinquished another to be adopted by an Indian woman in Los Angeles. She contracted the Spanish flu in 1920 and died soon after.

In her adoptive family, Wa Wa Chaw similarly experienced both love and power. We have her diaries and autobiographical sketches, written in her unique voice, to give us a firsthand account of her experience. Mary Duggan and her physician brother, Cornelius Duggan, both agnostics, seem to have regarded raising their adopted daughter as a scientific experiment. According to Wa Wa Chaw, "Dr. Duggan had bought Me a chess board when I was five years old. This chess board was to become the system by which they were to train My Mind, every evening for 15 minutes.... The chess board played a secret part in the strange regulation of My young Life. I have never been a little child. They had from the beginning talked plain language and laid down the laws governing common sense." The Duggans also brought in a psychologist, Dr. Edward Campbell, to examine Wa Wa Chaw. "I Learned that Dr. Campbell was to take charge of My Mental attitude," Wa Wa Chaw wrote. "A fine gentleman. Dr. Campbell was a noted neurologist and psychologist. It seems that Mother's complaint was I did not talk. It was her wish that I learn to express My feelings a little more freely." Wa Wa Chaw keenly felt as if she were living under a microscope. As she describes it, "My youth was spent under the Observation lens of the Human Eye. The Scientific Mind of Men that sought out the action of Causes."

Wa Wa Chaw's Indian background as well as her unusual upbringing often led her to feel like a "freak" on display. "I wonder if you Know what it means to be constantly on exhibition," she wrote. "I discovered that the Indian is always on display of some kind. And without pay." At the age of eight or ten, Wa Wa Chaw addressed a women's rights convention on the plight of Indian women and "became [an] object of fame and curiosity."Even as a baby, the Duggans had treated Wa Wa Chaw as an object for exhibit: "They [the Duggans] told Me at the Age of 6 months how I entered a baby contest and won $500.00 for them. And how Mother would dress and undress Me." Zintka had experienced similar sensations and had also "played Indian" in suffrage pageants. According to Renee Flood, she lived "forever a curiosity on public view"; whether Zintka was at home or traveling, "at every turn the child inspired crowds of gaping onlookers."

Although the Duggans undoubtedly loved Wa Wa Chaw, her sense that she was part of an experiment and exhibition left her feeling neglected. "My Parrot had a Greater care taken with it [than] I was cared for," she wrote. Moreover, schooled at home, she was lonely for the company of other children. Wa Wa Chaw drew a sketch of herself reading the dictionary. Her caption read, "I never had any childhood Friends From the time I can remember. I have been surrounded By adults."

Like Zintka, Wa Wa Chaw craved the company of other Indians. When she started piano lessons, she went to Philadelphia with her mother and met two Indian students from Hampton Institute. "Their company opened My Mind," she wrote. Like Zintka, Wa Wa Chaw learned racial ideologies early. "I often wondered how Mother ever went through all this suffering to keep an Indian alive," she pondered, "when the American has said the only good Indian was the dead Indian." At the age of ten, she "was told by another little girl Living in the same building: 'Indians don't belong here. Go somewhere else to Live.'" Like Clara Colby, Mary Duggan endured prejudice from other white women reformers for her adoption of Wa Wa Chaw. "One afternoon," Wa Wa Chaw writes, "I heard a friend of Mother make a remark about giving her Life for a wild Indian. I heard Mother say, 'My little girl isn't wild. I could not Live without her.'"

As it was for Zintka and Clara Colby, the decision about whether the girl should attend a federal Indian boarding school was an issue for Wa Wa Chaw and Mary Duggan. Both Duggan and Colby corresponded with Richard Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Institute and staunch advocate for Indian boarding schools, who counseled both women not to send their charges to Indian boarding schools. Although Pratt had pioneered the boarding school system for Indian children, he believed that Indian children ultimately should become fully assimilated into American society. Because Wa Wa Chaw and Zintka Nuni had already been raised within white families, he believed it would not be wise to place them in a segregated Indian-only setting. Due to financial exigencies, Colby reluctantly sent Zintka Nuni to an Indian boarding school, but she feared that it would reverse her assimilation process. Duggan strongly opposed sending Wa Wa Chaw to boarding school for different reasons. She told Wa Wa Chaw that Indian students in the schools "are in a prison, you Know," and also referred to "the Great pain of loneliness, which was the Fate of every little boy and girl sent to these remote institutions with rules and laws somewhat like a prison for the Criminal inmate."

Wa Wa Chaw shared her adoptive mother's dim view of the boarding schools, partly as a result of a trip Duggan and Wa Wa Chaw took together to the West, including many stops at Indian boarding schools: "After a visit to one of our boarding schools I learned that children in building 1 could not meet children in building 2," she wrote. "This seemed to be the system imposed, by the order of the Indian Bureau, to Create loneliness. I shall not forget how I visited an Indian school and found seven children made deaf because those in charge were allowed to beat them in one side of their heads and ears. When I complained the Agents molested Me." An orphaned Indian boy who was in an institution also contacted Wa Wa Chaw. "I was told these children were children born syphilis-Germed," she recounted. "What this Black robe did not Know was that one of his youthful Victims was told to contact Me. Which the boy did. This boy ran away not because he was a bad boy. His Mind just could not accept the strange Idea. I asked him to talk so I could understand his troubled Mind. He said the Man in charge was guilty of sexuality and homosexuality."

Like Zintka, Wa Wa Chaw sought to connect with Indian cultures and find her lost relatives throughout her life. She spent eight months living on the Wind River Reservation of Shoshones and Arapahoes in Wyoming. When she and Mary Duggan visited Sherman Institute, they gained clues to Wa Wa Chaw's heritage: "It seemed that My real Mother's Name was Calac Chaw. And a friend ... had contacted someone at the Indian school, who knew Mother Duggan and had some Knowledge of My Indian Mother and other children." Yet although she searched for her family throughout her adult life, Wa Wa Chaw could never find her relatives. Her search experience suggests that she had been stolen or sold. While Wa Wa Chaw and Mary Duggan stayed with an Indian family in southern California, two Indian boys mysteriously disappeared. Although the local sheriff denied any knowledge of their whereabouts, Wa Wa Chaw found them in the nearby hospital. Both boys had been beaten so severely by a white man who had offered them each a nickel to deliver a letter that one died from his wounds and the other had to stay in the hospital for seven months. As she recalled, while she was at the hospital, "The Doctor asked Me what I was doing there. I told him I have tried to locate My own Mother who gave Me away. That I was born at Valley Center and instead Fate has changed My course." The Doctor said "in plain language to get out if I Knew what was good for Me. I did just that." According to Wa Wa Chaw, the incident "prevented My search for the Mother who gave birth to My body in this World. Valley Center was more than 75 Miles from where we were. So I returned never to Know her."

Fiercely opposing assimilation, Wa Wa Chaw became an activist on behalf of Indian people. "Let every American Indian make it clear," she wrote, that "we are not interested in being made over as White Men or White Women. Nor of the White Race. We are what we are. Being Indians and members of the American Nations. And as Citizens we are seeking Justice within the law of our American Nation. Our youth must be given a chance to take part in all activity of our national Life." Wa Wa Chaw put her words into actions; during World War I she fought for the rights of Native Americans to serve in the armed forces.

Unlike Leonard Colby with Zintka, the Duggans kept close control over Wa Wa Chaw's sexuality. When she reached the age of eighteen, they believed it was time for her to marry. When Manuel Nuñez, a Puerto Rican American, took an interest in Wa Wa Chaw, the Duggans hired private detectives to make sure he was suitable for their daughter, and Mary Duggan also took Wa Wa Chaw with her to Puerto Rico for three months that year to investigate his family background. Although Wa Wa Chaw was not particularly interested in Nuñez-she writes, "I was more interested in My reading and paints than in Love"-the Duggans regarded him as an ideal mate and promoted the marriage. The couple had a child, "Tee Tee Chaw," who died at age three, and they eventually divorced. Like Zintka, Wa Wa Chaw became impoverished after leaving her adoptive family, especially after the death of Mary Duggan. Destitute after parting from her husband, she took to the streets of Greenwich Village, selling "Indian liniment" from "secret herbs" and her oil paintings. However, Wa Wa Chaw survived, became a respected artist, and lived until 1972. [Place figure 1.3 near here.]


In recent studies of transracial adoption, researchers have been particularly interested in determining whether these adoptions have been successful. Their success is assessed by the extent to which the children adapt to their families and whether they become "well-adjusted" adults. By this standard, we would probably deem Betty Rodgers's adoption the most successful and Zintka Nuni's the least. This may have been due to the vagaries of family dynamics, but it was also related to whether the adoptive families enabled their Indian children to connect with Indian culture and family. In Betty Rodgers's case, her adoptive parents adopted another Navajo girl, spoke Navajo, maintained ongoing relationships with Navajo people, and lived on the Navajo reservation. As Rodgers characterized her, "My mother [Mrs. Wetherill] ... thought the world of the Navajo people, just like they were her own, ... or she was just a Navajo herself, really." Ironically, though Louisa's birth children learned the Navajo language, Betty did not. Nevertheless, she still resided with her family on the border between the Navajo and white worlds (or in a particular variety of rural, southwestern, hobnobbing-with-the-stars white world). Moreover, as evidenced by her empathy with Navajo families against the Tuba City boarding school, Louisa Wetherill did not support one of the primary planks of the assimilation agenda.

Unlike the Wetherills, the Colbys sought to prevent Zintka from mingling with Indian people. Supporting assimilation policy, they imbibed reformers' messages that the solution to the "Indian problem" was to Christianize, civilize, and Americanize Indian people. They undoubtedly believed that through bringing Zintka into their supposedly respectable and civilized middle-class family, they were saving her and helping to promote the cause of assimilation. At least at first, Zintka seemed to fulfill a symbolic role in their lives, as a trophy of war or living Indian keepsake for the general and as a badge of maternalist reform credentials for Clara. Clearly, Zintka became much more to Clara, if not to Leonard. Clara struggled to support her daughter as Zintka experienced racism and longed to connect with her Indian family and community. Clara may have been as caught within the web of the intimacies of empire as her daughter, unable to find a way out of the tangled net of gender norms and ideals, racial ideologies, and settler colonial policies that limited her as much as her daughter.

In the case of Wa Wa Chaw and the Duggans, Mary Duggan shared Louisa Wetherill's aversion to Indian boarding schools and evinced real sympathy to Indian rights. Yet she and her brother's experimental approach to bringing up Wa Wa Chaw-and their residence in New York City-left Wa Wa Chaw isolated from her Indian roots until she was an adult. These are just three cases and cannot represent every adoption of an Indian child in the assimilation era. However, these cases do suggest that if the adoption of Indian children was meant to assimilate, it had many unforeseen consequences. In fact, the more a family concentrated on shielding an Indian child from contact with Indian people, the less likely that child was to adjust to her family and mainstream American society.

Yet the issue of Indian adoption should not focus only on adoptive families and adopted children. The question of whether adoptive Indian children "turned out well" rests on the assumption that assimilation was a legitimate enterprise and privileges liberal individualist values over community interests. A third perspective and experience must be taken into account. For while white women (and men) made new families, they inadvertently broke up many Indian families and damaged Indian communities.

In many cases, entire communities mourned for their lost children. When a group of Lakota ghost dancers visited Washington, D.C., and called on the Colbys, one elder, Kicking Bear, spent much time with Zintka. He gave the child a feather from his beaded cape and "put both his hands on Zintka's head and spoke in a low voice: then placed one hand on her chest and the other on her forehead, still continuing the invocation. Then he kissed his fingers, laid them on Zintka's mouth and back again on his own, after which he stood ... with bowed head." Overcome with grief, Kicking Bear wept and could not raise his head.

It is rare to find any account of birth mothers' points of view in archival or published sources. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the meaning of this adoption from reunions between birth mothers and child many years later. Betty Rodgers told her interviewer that she didn't see her Navajo mother again until the late 1930s, by which time Betty had a child of her own.

My Navajo mother came to see me. She came to Kayenta, and she came in my foster mother's home. I guess I was up at my little house, takin' care of my baby and stuff. I went down to see Mother [Wetherill] most of the time through the day. So I walked in the house and I saw this Navajo woman sittin' there on the couch as I walked by-walked right by her to find Mother [Wetherill], see where she was. So I met her in the dining room, and [Wetherill] said, "Betty, do you know that woman sittin' in there on the couch?" And I said, ... "No, I don't know her." So she went in there with me and said, "Well, that's your mother, Betty." And I said, "My mother?!" "Yes that's your mother." So she got up and stood up and I went over there and put my arms around her, and she cried. Of course she was just some other Navajo woman, is all I knew.... So I let her hold Betty, who is my oldest child.... I said, "Here's my baby, you can hold her." Oh, she was so proud of that! And she was sittin' there and cryin' and holdin' that baby in her arms and all that stuff.

Certainly, all adoption histories potentially involve the personal grief that Betty Rodgers's mother experienced. Ann Fessler's recent book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade makes it clear that many young, white, middle-class women who were pressured to give up their babies in the post-World War II era suffered as a result of relinquishing their children. In these cases, social workers promoted the adoption of children born to unwed white mothers as a means to bolster postwar gender and class ideals. By relinquishing their children, unwed mothers could retain their middle-class status and regain their proper womanly role while simultaneously allowing another family to live up to the postwar family ideal.

Yet the adoption of Indian children, when seen in the context of the long history of federal Indian policy, represented a qualitatively different affront. It involved a twisted tangle of racial and gender ideologies that left Indian communities vulnerable to losing their children. Indian women and families had three strikes against them. First, authorities and reformers believed that many if not most Indian families could not or would not conform to middle-class gender norms and thus were not fit to raise children. (Ironically, of course, many of the white women who adopted Indian children did not themselves live up to many gender norms of the time.) Second, the government and the reform movement believed that assimilation through the removal of Indian children was a necessary step toward the "civilization" of Indian people and the solution to "the Indian problem." Finally, the project of settler colonialism-the process whereby settlers took possession of land once claimed by Indian people-further justified the practice by which Indian children were separated from their families and adopted by white families. Although new gender and racial ideologies evolved in the post-World War II era, these three strikes would continue to haunt Indian families well into the late twentieth century, and the fostering and adoption of Indian children would become more commonplace. Together with the involuntary sterilization of many American Indian women in the postwar era, the continued removal of Indian children from their families represented a continuation of nineteenth-century policies that envisioned the eventual eradication of "the Indian problem" through the elimination of Indianness and Indian claims to land.

It was ultimately the power of the state over Indian families that led to the phenomenon of Indian adoption by non-Indian families. Yet, in these adoptive families, where the intimacies of empire were enacted on a daily basis, a fragile love could emerge to challenge the aims of the state colonial project and offer the potential of more equitable cross-cultural encounters. Fragile as it was, this love could not conquer all, but neither could the power of the state.