Intimate integration: A study of aboriginal transracial adoption in Saskatchewan, 1944-1984
The term intimacy brings to mind a type of familiarity between people that surpasses mere affection. Intimacy suggests a deeply personal relationship based on shared experiences, love, and the pursuit of common goals. The intimate lives of families, shared in the domestic sphere, are often thought to be beyond the reach of the state. By contrast, this dissertation demonstrates that intimacy has been the focus of the state through Indian Act legislation and child welfare programs that have uniquely intersected through the lives of First Nations and Métis women and children. Aboriginal transracial adoption provides a particularly vivid example of state sanctioned intimacy. Programs such as the Adopt Indian and Métis program, later known as AIM, REACH and the American version, the Indian Adoption Program, (IAP), created intimate bonds between white families and Aboriginal children. Transracial adoption represents a revolution in integration. The period of integration that took shape after the Second World War manifested in increased interventions of social welfare workers who encountered Aboriginal women and children in various domains. Race, gender, and space are interrogated through exploring Aboriginal women’s responses to the opportunities provided by increased access to child welfare programs, as well the limitations and serious handicaps that came as a consequence of their particular gendered and racialized location. In Saskatchewan, the CCF government under the direction of Tommy Douglas sought to utilize “technologies of helping”, a secular therapeutic social welfare approach to the problem of Métis marginalization and poverty through the Department of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation to effect Métis integration. Initially envisioned as series of government supported colonies to which Métis were relocated, the Métis policy eventually evolved to focus primarily on Métis children, and tangentially on Métis women. The Adopt Indian and Métis program, coming on the heels of failed relocation policies, increasing urban migration, and the compulsory enfranchisement of Indian women who married non-Indian partners, sought to present transracial adoption of Aboriginal children into non-Aboriginal homes as a potential solution to the breakdown of Indian and Métis families. The television advertisements and newspaper articles alerted the Saskatchewan public to the need for their assistance to love and care for needy children. This dissertation foregrounds concepts of Aboriginal kinship to illuminate the responses of First Nations and Métis leaders and activists to transracial adoption. Often characterized as “cultural genocide”, statistics reveal that there were in fact fewer adoptions than other forms of state based child caring provided to Aboriginal children. These concepts of kinship have been useful to provide a connection between calls for Aboriginal control of child welfare, sovereignty, and transracial adoption that emerged in the US and Canada in the latter half of the twentieth century. The tensions between conceptual and political goals and gendered manifestations of colonization have yet to be reconciled. Utilizing feminist ethnohistorical methodology along with oral histories from activists and Aboriginal peoples, this study proposes that the child welfare system provided both opportunities and oppression. Following the 1951 Indian Act revisions provincial law became applicable on reserve, and child welfare services were provided to Indian people who moved to urban areas. The Adoption Act supplanted former departmentally sanctioned Indian custom adoptions. Indigenous political leaders and activists have sought different methods to restore colonized kinship systems. These legal kinship systems express not only a uniquely Aboriginal identity, but serve to embed Indigenous children into their respective Indigenous political entities, simultaneously reaching backwards and forwards through time.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorKorinek, Valerie J.
CommitteeMiller, Jim R.; Labelle, Kathryn; Settee, Pricilla
Copyright DateApril 2015
transracial adoption, kinship, Aboriginal peoples, gender, race, Canada, Saskatchewan