American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation is the story of the destruction of Indian families as told to Congress in hearings held by the Sub-Committee on Indian Affairs in 1974 and the Select Committee on Indian Affairs in 1977 through the testimony of children, parents, Indian leadership, the Association on American Indian Affairs, psychological witnesses, and other advocates who opposed destructive child welfare practices. Their testimony described the illegal removal of Indian children, the exploitation of families through violation of their due process rights, the tragedy of children who were abused and neglected in placement, the psychological damage suffered by the children and their families, and the failure and neglect of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to protect the rights of Indian people as required by law. The litany of longstanding abusive practices revealed that one out of every four Indian children had been removed from her or his parents or extended family members in whose care they had been left, and that eighty-five percent of these children had been placed in non-Indian homes and institutions. Their testimony would convince Congress of the need to regulate the actions of state courts and public and private child welfare agencies to prevent the breakup of the Indian family. The testimony further revealed the federal government's continuing use of federal boarding schools as a primary resource for the placement of Indian children taken from families experiencing difficulties and its failure to provide services to these families, and for those children for whom local schools, near to their family, were not available. The federal boarding school system was established in the late 1800s to assimilate the Native people into mainstream society and to destroy tribal life. The Committees also heard from federal government witnesses who refused to accept their responsibility, and who strongly opposed enactment of laws to protect the integrity of Indian family life, despite clear evidence of the government's complicity in its destruction. Other witness who joined the governments opposition included representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who feared that a law to protect Indian families would interfere with its Student Placement Program in which over twenty-five hundred children were taken every school year into Mormon foster homes for education purposes. The information provided to Congress formed the foundation for the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.




colonization, Indian removal, child welfare

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Gerald Vizenor

Second Committee Member

M. Jane Young

Third Committee Member

Margaret Connell-Szasz

Fourth Committee Member

Samuel Roll