History, Department of


Date of this Version

November 2002


Published in Children and War: A Historical Anthology. Edited by James Marten; Foreword by Robert Coles. New York University Press. New York and London. 2002. Copyright © 2002 New York University Press. http://www.nyupress.org Used by permission.


As a central component of the assimilation agenda in the United States and of absorption plans in Australia, child removal became a systematic government policy toward indigenous peoples in both countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Using the rhetoric of protecting and saving indigenous children, reformers and government officials touted child removal as a means to "uplift" and "civilize" indigenous children. Modern-day historians, until very recently, have characterized child removal in similar ways: as a well-intentioned, though ultimately misguided, alternative to warfare and violence against indigenous peoples.

If we turn our attention to the perspectives of the indigenous peoples who confronted this policy, a different view emerges. While outright violence against indigenous peoples in both the United States and Australia did virtually end in the late nineteenth century, efforts by colonizers to pacify and control indigenous populations and to confiscate their lands continued with the removal of indigenous children. Such a policy was hardly a departure from military methods of subjugation; rather, the systematic and forcible removal of their younger generations represented an ongoing assault upon indigenous communities.

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