Carol A. Hand
Following is the fourth installment of one of the exam papers written to complete a university degree (Hand, 1999). I am sharing the essay in installments, with minor edits and illustrations added, in hopes that it might be of interest and stimulate thoughtful dialogue. (Part One defined theory and discussed some of the relevant general theories that continue to guide research, policies, and practice paradigms that limit the exercise of sovereignty by tribal governments over the welfare of their citizens, lands, and resources. Part Two covered theories about the ways in which power over others is imposed and maintained. Part Three explored different theories related specifically to the colonial experience of Indigenous Peoples in what is now the United States.)
I wish to thank all of the readers and commenters who have been following this series. I have learned a lot from the thoughtful dialogue. Perhaps you’ll be grateful to know that there is only one final installment to come, the discussion and conclusion. Honestly, I don’t remember what it says – so I look forward to reading it and hope you all do as well.
Cultural survival is precisely the issue which reportedly led Native American people to press for the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 (Unger, 1978). The opening section of the Act explicitly notes Congressional recognition that “there is no resource more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children and the United States has a direct interest, as trustee, in protecting Indian children who are members of or are eligible for membership in an Indian tribe” (Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 USCS, sec. 1901).
Photo: Carlisle Indian Boarding School (1879-1918) (Source)
As discussed at length in Preliminary Examination Paper 1 (Hand, 1999), the paradigms, institutions, professional standards, and practices that govern the implementation of ICWA have emerged from Euro-American society with only cosmetic modifications. Under ICWA, the standards of family caregiving against which abuse and neglect are measured, the methods for exploring and documenting cases of reported maltreatment, and the types of interventions used are, in most cases, indistinguishable from those used by state and county agencies (Wares, Dobec, Rosenthal, & Wedel, 1992; Plantz et al, 1989).
As presently implemented, ICWA may be contributing to the continuing erosion of some tribal cultures given the context of: (1) authority for implementation which is delegated to tribal governments that embody dominant institutional structures, values, and operations; (2) the Euro-American child welfare paradigms on which ICWA is based (values, intervention methodologies, and definitions of what constitutes child neglect and abuse); and (3) tribal communities where centuries of federal interventions have left a legacy of disrupted families and factionalized communities. One is led to ask if this situation is unique to Native Americans, or if, in fact, other oppressed peoples are similarly struggling to assure the safety of children within antithetical cultural paradigms.
Evidence from Cross-National and Cross-Cultural Literatures.
National and cultural comparisons reveal a number of important insights, illustrating both similarities in the treatment and impacts of colonialism for indigenous peoples, and national and cultural variability in definitions of child treatment, as discussed below.
Photo: Mathinna – 1842 – by Thomas Bock ( Indigenous Australians )
Fleras and Elliott (1992) and Armitage (1995) build on the transactional theme of relationships between colonial oppression and native resistance cross-nationally. (Please see Endnotes for a brief overview of these works.) As illustrated in Table 2, there are notable and significant similarities among the colonial policies which were imposed on indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. (Again, please refer to the Endnotes for additional information.) Under the unquestioned European “doctrine of discovery,” new lands were viewed as the legitimate property of the discovering nations, and indigenous peoples were viewed, at best, as subjects of colonial rule. As Europeans encountered new lands and peoples, they assumed the superiority of European “civilization” (e.g., agriculture, technology, government, religion, and written language), and, in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, indigenous peoples were seen as inferior, “uncivilized” heathens (Diamond, 1997; Fleras and Elliott, 1992; Dippie, 1982; Berkhoffer, 1979). Initial colonial policies imposed by Spain, Britain, and France were intended to wrest land and resources from the control of indigenous peoples, while later policies were focused on civilizing, Christianizing, and assimilating native peoples.
Table 2: Cross-National Comparison of Child Welfare Policies Imposed on Indigenous Peoples
Contact/Early Settlement Era
According to Armitage (1995, p. 5), the imposition of colonial control over indigenous peoples took two forms: extermination and “temperate conduct.” The “extermination” of indigenous peoples across continents followed immediately after European contact, most notably as a result of European-born diseases, with warfare and massacres further decimating indigenous populations and cultures (Diamond, 1997; Fleras and Elliott, 1992; Armitage, 1995).
“However, once a sufficient number of aboriginal people had been killed (i.e., enough to ensure British dominance), a set of policies based on a ‘temperate line of conduct’ frequently became possible. These policies relied upon a dominant military or civil police force for their ultimate enforcement and were aimed at managing aboriginal peoples by controlling their land use, settlements, governments, and daily life. They also called for introducing aboriginal people to missionaries” (Armitage, 1995, p. 5).
“The invaders invoked certain myths to legitimize and justify the colonization, displacement, and exploitation of aboriginal peoples in the name of evolutionary progress and national development…. The situation was viewed with both alarm and ethnocentric complacency, as if the extinction of aboriginal peoples were the inevitable price of “‘progress’” (Fleras & Elliott, 1992, p. 3).
Although there were similarities in the use of differential power by colonial powers in North America, Australia, and New Zealand, significant differences also exist. The treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Australia was clearly the most brutal, and only the Maoris of New Zealand escaped relocation and isolation on reservations. Despite these differences, however, colonial policies have left a similar legacy. As Fleras and Elliott point out (1992, p. 4):
“While the specifics vary from one context to the next, aboriginal peoples share a number of social and economic features that stem directly from their status as encapsulated populations under colonialist rule…. No matter what economic index is cited — income, employment, education — aboriginal peoples, in a statistical sense, tend to occupy the bottom-most rung of the socio-economic ladder.”
Fleras and Elliott (1992, p. 5) add that the “loss of culture and control over life have in some instance led to chronic problems over personal identity, group integrity, and social solidarity,” the very issues Cornell (1988) identified as the central impacts of colonization.
Photo: Canadian Indian Residential School ( Source )
Among these four nations, general colonial policies were accompanied by specific polices targeted toward children. As Armitage (1995, p. 5) points out:
“Child welfare policy was seen as one of the ‘softer” tools used to obtain compliance and, ultimately, to ensure the universal acceptance of British rule. In Britain, the Poor Law was already using child welfare policy as a means of managing families by separating the children of paupers from their parents.”
The 1837 House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines in Australia extended Poor Law practices to indigenous children as “the best means of ensuring that aboriginal peoples would be prepared for the responsibilities of Christianity, civilization, and British citizenship” (Armitage, 1995, p. 204). Institutions, called “dormitories” in Australia, “residential schools” in Canada, and “boarding schools” in the United States, became the preferred method for accomplishing this task. Only the Maoris of New Zealand were spared the British and colonial practice of forcefully removing generations of children from their parents to be raised in institutions, or later, in European homes (Armitage, 1995; Adams, 1995). Armitage points out that “Physical and sexual abuse occurred in many of the institutions, and, thus, patterns of violence between and towards children were introduced into the parenting behavior of the next generation of aboriginal peoples.” Lewis Meriam (1928) expressed a similar concern in 1928 with respect to the long-term impacts for Native American children who were raised in boarding schools within the U.S.
Conflict and Domination/ Paternalism and Isolation Era
In all four nations, “special treatment” for indigenous peoples was replaced by a commitment to integration. As general child welfare services were extended to native communities the practice of removing high rates of aboriginal children from their parents continued, although the agents of child removal shifted from the agents of specialized bureaucracies dedicated to overseeing native populations to workers in general child welfare agencies. Armitage (1995) suggests a number of contributors to the continuation of disproportionate child removal during the integration period: (1) the unfamiliarity of courts and workers with aboriginal communities; (2) the imposition of non-aboriginal values and expectations on aboriginal communities; (3) the decreasing availability of extended family and community as a result of the increasing urbanization of aboriginal peoples; (4) high rates of alcohol and substance abuse among aboriginal peoples; and (5) the high proportion of aboriginal parents who had spent their childhoods in institutions who subsequently experienced difficulties raising their own children.
Yet, native resistance coalesced in all four nations during the 1970s in response to integration policies, resulting in the emergence of a period of limited self-determination and varying degrees of native control over family and child welfare. The Maori have developed community initiatives to preserve language and culture through pre-school emersion programs, and have had an impact on federal child welfare practice and legislation. In the United States and Canada, the role of band or tribal governments in child welfare has been recognized and expanded. In Australia, gains have been more modest, but federal recognition and resources have enabled Aboriginal peoples to begin the task of rebuilding families and developing services based on tribal customs. These changes have, across all nations, resulted in lower rates of out-placement for indigenous children, as summarized by Table 2. Yet, Armitage (1995) suggests that one should not be too optimistic about the willingness of federal governments to embrace self-determination for aboriginal peoples. An alternative view is that
“cultural assimilation has been replaced by institutional assimilation. In this view, aboriginal peoples are permitted to undertake administrative actions only on the condition that they develop policies and programs which mirror those of the mainstream cultures within which they are located. The illusion of self-government exists, but the reality is mainstream control, accomplished by the simple expedient of only funding programs that meet criteria defined by mainstream cultures (e.g., Canadian child welfare agreements). Thus, assimilation continues under the guise of self-government” (Armitage, 1995, p. 41).
Fleras and Elliott (1992, p. 124) suggest that the empowerment of native peoples can follow one of two scenarios: either existing systems can be retained with minor modifications at the level of program design, service delivery or personnel, or through fundamental change and the creation of “parallel structures in criminal justice as well as in health and education” by each community, “in effect giving practical expression to the principle of aboriginal self-government.” Consistent with Cornell (1988), indigenous peoples have differing views on this issue: some view the current federal policies as an indicator of self-determination, while others argue for the creation of policies based on native cultural traditions and the elimination of European influence (Armitage, 1995). Armitage (1995, p. 215) argues that three main tasks are necessary in order for indigenous peoples to recover from the effects of centuries of colonial child welfare policy: “(1) rebuilding roots and identity, (2) modifying mainstream child welfare policies, and (3) establishing alternative aboriginal policies.”
Limited Self-Government Era
Eurocentric paradigms have continued to guide the child welfare policies over which indigenous people have been able to establish some measure of administrative control (Armitage, 1995). That these views have continued to dominate points to the unquestioned nature of paradigms and disciplines. Individual missionaries, teachers, child welfare workers, and legislators, most of whom are of European descent, have continued to make decisions about aboriginal individuals or groups based on their own set of time-specific culture-bound beliefs. While each individual decision may have been well-meaning and intended to be in the “best interest” of native peoples, cultural hegemony has been established and continues to persist as a result (Armitage, 1995). As Cornell (1988, p. 196) points out:
“In all societies, albeit in widely varying degrees, social control rests to some extent on the belief among members that the existing institutions of that society are fundamentally appropriate and just and that the ideas and values they represent are essentially good and, indeed, normal.”
Eurocentric paradigms have been accepted, to varying degrees, by many native peoples. Yet, a body of cross-cultural child welfare literature suggests that there are many alternative paradigms, and underscores the importance of respecting the fit between cultural practices and environments.
Photo: Maori Family ( Source )
Cross-Cultural Child Welfare.
Jill Korbin (1981, p. 2) notes that “the cross-cultural literature on child rearing presents a remarkable range of variation. This is all the more notable considering the commonality of tasks that must be accomplished in socializing the next generation.” Despite the absence of a universal definition of child abuse and neglect across nations and cultures, there are, according to Korbin (1981, pp. 4-5) three levels at which cross-cultural issues are critical in defining child maltreatment: (1) “practices [which are] viewed as acceptable by one culture but as abusive or neglectful by another”; (2) criteria within each culture “for identifying behaviors that are outside the realm of acceptable child training”; and (3) harmful or abusive societal factors, “such as poverty, inadequate housing, poor health care, inadequate nutrition, and unemployment” which either contribute directly to the incidence of abuse, “or are so damaging to children as the outweigh the proportion of child abuse and neglect which occurs because of parental psychopathology.”
Based on ethnographic research conducted prior to 1978 across a diverse sample of cultures, from Turkey to Africa, South America to China, New Guinea to Japan, several important generalizations emerge (Korbin, 1981). First, the type of physical battery of children which has emerged as a concern in the United States appeared to be relatively rare in other parts of the world prior to 1978. Second, some children in each culture appeared to be more vulnerable to mistreatment than others: “illegitimate children, adopted children, deformed or retarded children, high birth order children, and female children.
Vulnerability depends to a large degree on the cultural context” (Korbin, 1981, p. 6). Third, certain characteristics of cultures affected the incidence of child maltreatment, most notably the availability of family and community support, and the stability of the social and cultural context. Urbanization, with a disruptive impact on informal support networks, as well as contexts of cultural change, appear to increase family stressors and the incidence of child abuse and neglect (LeVine & LeVine, 1981; Johnson, 1981; Ritchie & Ritchie, 1981; and Hauswald, 1987). In addition to the degree of “embeddedness” of families within kin and community networks, and the increased vulnerability of some categories of children, Korbin (1981, pp. 207-208, emphasis in original) points to other factors within a cultural context which either increase or decrease the likelihood of abuse: (1) the “cultural value of children”; and (2) “beliefs about age capabilities and developmental stages of children.” Children are likely to be better treated within those cultures in which they are valued for many reasons (tradition bearers, lineage continuation, economic contributors), and harsh treatment of young children who misbehave is likely to viewed as pointless in cultures which define “the age of reason” as age seven or eight.
A number of accepted practices within other cultural contexts may operate to reduce the likelihood of harsh physical abuse: infanticide, “underinvestment” or benign neglect of selected children, abandonment, harsh physical discipline after “the age of reason” has been attained, and rites of passage that are sometimes painful or dangerous (Johnson, 1981; Poffenberger, 1981; Wagatsuma, 1981). From the view of outsiders, an “etic” perspective (Korbin, 1987, p. 26, italics in original), such treatment may appear to be abusive. Yet, many scholars stress the importance of understanding cultural practices from an “emic” (or insider) perspective, as well as from a transactional framework of cultural practices developed within specific social and physical environments (e.g., Korbin, 1981, 1987; Wu; 1981; Scheper-Hughes, 1992).
Practices which limit population size to manageable levels, ensure that those children who remain are wanted, and ritually celebrate the transition of each child into adult status, result in better treatment of children overall (Korbin, 1981). As Scheper-Hughes argues (1987, p. 13, emphasis in original):
“Once understood in their specific ecological and cultural context we can distinguish normative forms of child maltreatment from the more deviant and idiosyncratic practices of child battering and sexual abuse… The vast difference between allowing certain neonates to die for economic and ecological reasons in an infanticide-tolerant society, and the hostile battering of a rejected and disvalued child in an abortion- and abuse-tolerant society needs to be recognized and clarified. What first appears as a baffling paradox may be seen as the unfortunate outcome of the demographic transition of advanced industrial societies.”
Scheper-Hughes (1992) demonstrates the impact of significant socio-demographic transitions in her discussion of motherhood and child death within northeastern Brazil. Her powerful, sensitive account demonstrates the ways in which parents and communities accommodate to overwhelmingly toxic and violent external pressures. In beginning her account, Scheper-Hughes (1992, p. 8) notes:
“Often I groped blindly to understand and act within a context of radical, sometimes opaque, cultural differences as well as within a context of economic misery and political repression in which my own country [USA] played a contributing and supporting role.”
Photo: Northeastern Brazil Plantation ( Source )
The lives of the displaced rural peoples among whom Scheper-Hughes (1992) lived were severely constrained by poverty, hunger, and thirst: the outcome of national and international forces which have led to continued over-cultivation of the land with sugar cane for exportation and pollution of the major source of water. Added to the weight of hunger is the repressive role of the “state institutions of violence” which target the poor: beatings, incarceration, and killings are not uncommon. Scheper-Hughes (1992, p. 532) likens the experience of the poor of northeastern Brazil to that of inmates of “total institutions.” The very existence of the poor in northeastern Brazil rests within the hands of those in power: physicians, politicians, and owners of the large sugarcane plantations (the casa grande). Like inmates in a total institution, the most valuable currency the poor can exchange includes “dependency, silence, and passivity … and … loyalty to the doctor-jailer or the patron-boss.” In this environment of violence and hunger, “[c]hild protection … often takes the form of child theft,” taking children from their poor mothers and sending them to adoptive mothers in other parts of Brazil or to the United States.
Within a context of extreme scarcity and repression, hunger, childhood malnutrition, and thirst have been defined as a disease by the poor, nervoso, and medicalized by professionals and by those in power. Unwilling to recognize the failure of the state symbolized by the starvation of the poor, the medical profession and power structure treat peoples’ hunger with “tranquilizers, vitamins, sleeping pills, and elixirs” (Scheper-Hunges, 1992, p. 169). A crucial question emerges from the acceptance of the medical definition and treatment of starvation by the poor themselves: “… how does it happen that chronically hungry people “eat” medicines while going without food?” (Scheper-Hughes, 1992, p. 177). The answer, according to Scheper-Hughes (1992, p. 199), is suggested by Antonio Gramsci. The poor people of northeastern Brazil are not coerced to look to physicians for cures, but rather, have gradually come to share the views of the medical intellectuals.
The appeal of medical solutions to hunger and child morbidity and mortality is understandable given: (1) the fit with a “popular cultural with a long tradition of ‘magical medicines’”; and (2) the need to do something to survive in a way that does not invoke reprisal from the oppressive power structure (Scheper-Hughes, 1987, p. 200). Continuing survival in a repressive political environment, despite poverty, hunger, and high rates of child mortality and morbidity, speaks to the tremendous resilience of the poor people of Brazil (Scheper-Hughes, 1992).
Scheper-Hughes (1992) asserts that the survival of the poor in northeastern Brazil cannot be characterized as resistance, although according to Cornell’s (1988) analysis, the emergence of particular survival strategies has been, at times, the only form of resistance open to Native American peoples. He points out that:
“Pacifism on the part to the oppressed, often interpreted as inherent passivity or contentment, more often reflects severely restricted opportunities for action, and a decision to spend energy in the more productive and likely enterprise of community maintenance and revitalization. Beneath the veneer of passivity, in other words, often lies an extraordinary effort to reorganize and reconceptualize personal and social life experience, so that apparently unalterable conditions can be made tolerable…. To some extent this reaction represents decreasing self-confidence and increasing fear, but is also represents a conscious effort to develop an alternative strategy for survival” (Cornell, 1988, p. 65).
Photo: Navajo Mother and Children (Raynor Memorial Libraries, Marquette University )
Survival within the context of domination results in continuing long-term challenges. Hauswald’s (1987) study of child welfare among the Navajo provides evidence of a number of salient and important consequences of colonialism among Navajo families and communities. First, consistent with Cornell’s (1988) observations, the Navajo people have become factionalized by a “traditional” versus “partially assimilated” split. As Hauswald (1987, p. 145) points out:
“The recent history of the Navajos is one in which language, religion, and childrearing practices have all been disrupted to a greater or lesser degree. The Navajo Reservation continues to be assaulted with economic, educational, and social alternatives, many of them in direct conflict with traditional lifestyles and values. The maintenance of stable childrearing patterns in this rapidly changing and stressful social context is often impossible.”
Boarding schools and other assimilation policies have resulted in parents who have internalized negative self-images and whose childhood has deprived them of their language, religion, and kinship ties and eliminated opportunities for them to experience Navajo family life and childrearing. While Navajo parents who were raised in boarding schools may attempt to return to traditional lifestyles, Hauswald (1987, p. 151) points out that
“… they do not teach the traditions to their children. Feeling the Navajo Way is disadvantageous in the ‘modern’ world, they do not teach or discipline their children; so, although they now have the alternative of using public day schools, they frequently send their own children to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding schools or Mormon Placement foster homes, a common pattern in neglectful and abusive families.”
Hauswald’s (1987) second important finding is the acceptance of dominant institutions and practice paradigms by Navajo health and child welfare professionals. Like their professional Anglo colleagues, the professionally-degreed Navajos who work for Indian Health Service (IHS) tend to hold a negative assessment of tribal judges and the un-degreed social workers who work for the tribe. Likewise, tribal social workers are hesitant to work with Anglo or “modern” Navajo staff in the BIA and IHS, since they are viewed as ignorant of or insensitive to cultural issues. The needs of families are often poorly served within the context of interagency distrust and conflict.
Third, Houswald (1987, p. 162) asserts that, consistent with Margaret Mead’s observations in 1978, “child abuse and neglect cases reflect the fact that under new social conditions, parents are often confused about how to care for their children, while the traditional back-up system for poor parenting has broken down, leaving many children at risk.” The loss of cultural values, norms, strong family networks, and positive self-images are threatened during times of rapid social change. Hauswald (1987, p. 162) points to the difficulties parents experience in times of rapid social change when external supports and culturally “defined values and beliefs about personal roles and social meanings” are disrupted, whether those families are “traditional, bicultural, or acculturated.”
Hauswald’s (1987) final point leads back to the beginning of this paper, to the theory of causality for child maltreatment forwarded by the thoughtful Ojibwa youth. Hauswald (1987, p. 152) argues that:
“Alcohol is often blamed as the root cause of child abuse and neglect, but breakdown in cultural traditions associated with rapid change in family interaction and childrearing actually precede the use of alcohol in many neglectful families. In the cycle of external pressure and change internal to families, alcohol becomes a substitute for cohesive and satisfying relationships that have been lost.”
Alcohol and substance abuse are identified as key causal factors of child neglect and abuse both by professionals and by families within indigenous cultures (Cross, 1987). As Hauswald (1987, p. 162) points out,
“The strong inclination to blame alcohol rather than to see a deviant pattern in interaction between family members is largely due to a belief that the individuals are not to blame if alcohol ‘made them do it.’ If viewed in social/historical context, families can be perceived as troubled and as being in need of help, while individuals can still be freed from direct blame and guilt.”
This is not to say that problems associated with alcohol and substance abuse should be minimized or ignored, since addictions add to the many challenges Native American individuals and families face. However, eliminating substance abuse does not eliminate family violence, nor does it change the larger socio-historical/econo-political legacy which continues to present additional challenges and pressures for Native American families.
1. Fleras and Elliott (1992) compare the general colonial policies imposed on indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Armitage (1995) compares both the general policies and the child welfare policies of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
2. Table 2 is adapted from Armitage, 1995; Cornell, 1988; Fleras and Elliott, 1992; Bremner, 1970; O’Brien, 1989; Snipp, 1989, Adams, 1995; Dippie, 1982; Adair, 1985; Bercuson, 1985; Jeans & Miller, 1985; Lewthwaite, 1985; Waite, 1985; and U.S. Census Bureau, 1990. Period names and dates for Australia, Canada, and New Zealand primarily reflect those used by Armitage (1995, pp. 200-201, 206-207), although modifications have been made to incorporate the perspectives of the other scholars.
3. Table 2 was so challenging to reproduce in WordPress. The table was retyped as a PowerPoint slide show, and slides were turned into photos of diminished clarity/readability. Please email me if you would like a copy of the slide show. Following are overviews of the four nations discussed that were part of the original table.
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