History, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2017


Ben Taleb, B. “White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940 by Margaret Jacobs.” Past Tense Journal, Vol., 5 No. 1 (Spring 2017): 125-126.



Past Tense Graduate Review of History is published online by the Graduate History Society at the University of Toronto at www.pasttensejournal.com.


Settler colonialism is a winner-take-all project, where the colonizer comes to stay, occupies the land permanently, and accepts nothing less than the removal of indigenous nations. Australia and the United States are two salient cases of settler colonies that became settler nations, where settlers used various tactics to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land. One of these brutal methods of colonization, according to Margaret Jacobs’ White Mother to a Dark Race, was the removal of indigenous children from their families and the breaking of the affective bonds that tied indigenous peoples together. Australia’s “protection” policies and the U.S. government’s “assimilation” program, each of which included indigenous child removal, are central to Jacobs’ book. “What was it exactly that reformers and officials hoped to change about indigenous children by taking them from their families?” Jacobs asks (xxx). The fundamental goal of these reformers and officials was to consolidate control and complete the colonization of the American West and Australia as two growing settler nations from the 1880s until well into the twentieth century. ...

Jacobs’ compelling book is based on government documents, national and state archives, personal papers, written memoirs, and oral histories of white women reformers and indigenous children. These materials, interspersed with Jacobs’ personal voice, buttress her arguments in a beautifully illustrated manner. Aside from being too long, Jacobs’ Bancroft Prize winning book brings an original approach to women’s, gender, and settler colonial studies, and deserves wide readership across disciplines.

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