Carol A. Hand
This is the final installment of the exam paper on differential power and Indian child welfare. I have shared the essay in installments, with minor edits and illustrations added, in hopes that it might be of interest and stimulate thoughtful dialogue. I’m so grateful to say that it has and I wish to thank everyone who contributed such thoughtful and incisive comments. I have learned a lot from what you shared about your experiences, insights, and expertise.
By way of background for others viewing this last installment of the series, here’s a brief summary of prior installments:
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.
Part Four examined child welfare from cross-national and cross-cultural perspectives.
The decision to post this particular paper was a risk I was willing to take. Yes, in many ways it is history. I have often been advised by those in privileged positions to “Just get over it.” But the “it” – the consequences of oppression and genocide in both a physical and cultural sense – are with us still.
Photo: Public High School Mascot ( Link here for more information)
By “us,” I don’t just mean Indigenous Peoples in North America or the world. I mean all of us. How could the blood on the hands of all of our ancestors not affect who we are today? Just look at how we treat each other and the earth we all share. It is also true that many of us are motivated by other legacies our ancestors have left – as visionaries, inventors, artists, builders, scholars and peacemakers. It is the latter legacies that I know many of us follow and nourish as artists, advocates, healers, and ordinary people living our daily lives.
The theoretical frameworks for explaining the concept of differential power discussed in this paper go beyond Zald’s definition of power as “the ability of a person or group, for whatever reason, to affect another person’s or group’s ability to achieve its goals (personal or collective)” (1981, p. 238). According to Foucault and Gramsci, power is more than economic or political control: it includes the ability to impose values and build enduring mechanisms to perpetuate particular beliefs about the nature and meaning of life and human behavior. A number of crucial dimensions emerge from the preceding review of diverse literatures. First, while it is clear that some nations and cultures dominate others, it is also clear that domination does not signify the superiority of dominant cultures when compared to the cultures of subaltern groups. Although characterizations of cultural superiority/inferiority have emotional appeal and are often used to justify domination, they are outdated and irrelevant within the more respectful frameworks of cultural relativism and cultural pluralism.
Photo: Diversity Tree ( Source )
Second, while the relationship of individuals and groups with their environmental context is transactional, power differentials between groups operate to constrain or expand individual and group choices and actions. Power operates through both overt and covert ways, through centralized structures and through diffused norms and disciplinary paradigms. Power is no longer seen as
“… an exclusive property of ‘repressive apparatuses,’ it has invaded our sense of the smallest and most intimate of human relations as well as the largest; it belongs to the weak as well as to the strong; and it is constituted precisely within the relations between official and unofficial agents of social control and cultural production… [F]orce … is only a tiny part of power, so that much of the problematic of power today is a problematic of knowledge making, universe construction, and the social production of feeling and of ‘reality’” (Dirks, Eley, & Ortner, 1994, p. 5).
As Korbin (1987, p. 26) points out: “When cultures come into contact, the situation is ripe for conflict on a range of issues, including child care patterns.” Korbin (1987, p. 28) adds that in the absence of an understanding of the cultural context and emic meaning of child care practices, “ethnocentrism may dictate that the dominant culture will tolerate the behavior or attempt to eradicate it either through punishment or education.”
Third, Euro-American cultural hegemony over Native Americans has increased over time, and continues to the present time through both the imposition of Eurocentric institutions within tribal communities, and through the acceptance of Eurocentric institutions and the values which they embody by some tribal members. Tribal political structures and tribal identity have changed in response to Euro-American policies and institutions, as factions with differing views of tribal identity have emerged within particular political tribal entities. Tribal accommodations and the acceptance of dominant institutions, while exacerbating internal factions, have enabled tribal communities to survive with at least a small measure of self-determination; perhaps, tribal communities would not have been able to survive otherwise.
Photo: Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow – 2010 ( Source )
Finally, the conditions affecting the present generation of Native American families and children still bear the impact of past policies of disempowerment and marginalization. Native American families, both on and off reservations, face a daunting set of challenges: poverty and unemployment, poorer health and inadequate housing, and continuing racial/ethnic discrimination. Added to this set of stressors is the erosion of clear cultural definitions of “appropriate” or “good” parenting, and culturally preferred methods for intervening in cases of “poor” parenting. For centuries, Native Americans were forcibly subjected to family and child welfare policy paradigms developed by the Euro-American elite. Through Indian and child welfare policies, federal and state governments have clearly played the dominant role in defining normative family and child rearing practices. Deliberate policies to force First Nations people to internalize Euro-American norms and values predate the United States constitution and continue to operate in overt and covert ways today. This legacy continues to influence Tribal child welfare in a number of significant ways.
The dynamic interplay of “traditional” and “contemporary” values touches the lives of Native American people both on and off the reservation and continues to affect community and family structures, practices, and attitudes. The erosion of informal networks and the changing realities of parenting children in a transnational environment create new stresses. Added to the challenge inherent in balancing very diverse world views, Native American families must also respond to the changing context of instantaneous worldwide communication and information that affects their children’s current values and future well-being.
Uncritically transposing values and practices from the dominant child welfare paradigm on Native American communities is of questionable efficacy within this complex context. Yet, as Kuhn (1970) argues, paradigm change is not a simple undertaking, largely because most members of a particular discipline or culture cannot envision alternatives (Kuhn, 1970; Fleras & Elliott, 1992). As Bourdieu (1994, p. 161) asserts, the “established cosmological and political order is perceived not as arbitrary, i.e., as one possible order among others, but as a self-evident and natural order which goes without saying and therefore goes unquestioned…” Kuhn likens paradigm shifts to revolutions.
“Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased to adequately meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created… In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution… Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates a partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all” (Kuhn, 1970, pp. 92-93).
Photo: National Grass Dancer Pow Wow – 2005 ( Source )
However, institutional change need not be a through a violent overthrow of existing systems (Foucault, 1988). Scholarship, often used to perpetuate the status quo, can also make significant contributions to social change efforts. The role of intellectuals in resistance is to question what has become self-evident, “to disturb people’s mental habits, the way they do and think things, to dissipate what is familiar and accepted, to reexamine rules and institutions …” (Kritzman, 1988, p. xvi). The cross-national studies conducted by Fleras and Elliott (1992) and Armitage (1995) are pivotal in this regard: they point to the existence of alternative paradigms. Unlike United States child welfare policies which have remained embedded within the dominant Euro-American paradigm, recent developments in New Zealand demonstrate the potential for cultural pluralism as a result of both Maori community initiatives and national legislation. Fleras, Elliot (1992), and Armitage (1995) argue that it is possible for politically pluralistic nations to acknowledge cultural diversity and to empower racial and ethnic communities to develop their own culturally-appropriate institutions.
The situation in North America represents more than cultural conflict between Native peoples and Europeans: the policies imposed went far beyond imposing Eurocentric standards of appropriate child care. The impact, if not the intent, of U.S. Indian policies has been, to varying degrees for different Tribes, cultural genocide, economic exploitation, social marginalization, and political repression. The legacy of harm done to Native cultures, families, and children is indisputable.
A new era of Native resistance and national pluralism emerged in the 1970s. “Self-determination” and “self-governance” are the labels given to current federal legislation governing federal/tribal relations. A number of scholars caution, however, that the thin veneer of pluralistic rhetoric embodied in such labels, while a hopeful sign, is at best tenuous. Eurocentric institutions have been imposed on Native American peoples and are now firmly entrenched within reservation communities. Federal and state policies, and federal court decisions, still determine the limits of tribal self-determination and power. The era of self-determination and the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act have not signaled the emergence of new family and child welfare practice approaches within the United States which have been evident in New Zealand. During the past twenty years, tribal child welfare systems have been established within the context of continuing Euro-American political domination, and within social work and child welfare practice paradigms that reflect the values of Euro-American professionals and scholars.
Hence, more questions than answers emerge from the preceding discussion of the impact of differential power and cultural hegemony on tribal cultures and tribal child welfare systems and practices. Eagleton (1983, pp. 214-125) points out that:
“Culture, in the lives of nations struggling for their independence from imperialism, has a meaning quite remote from the review pages of the Sunday newspapers. Imperialism is not only the exploitation of cheap labour-power, raw materials and easy markets but the uprooting of languages and customs — not just the imposition of foreign armies, but of alien ways of experiences. It manifests itself not only in company balance-sheets and in airbases, but can be tracked to the most intimate roots of speech and signification. In such situations, which are not all a thousand miles from our own doorstep, culture is so vitally bound up with one’s common identity that there is no need to argue for its relation to political struggle. It is arguing against it which would seem incomprehensible.”
Photo: Ada Deer – Menominee Tribe – Activist and Social Work Educator ( Source )
Yet, according to Cornell’s (1988) research, the self-identity of Native peoples, the foundation of distinct tribal cultures, has been impacted by force and cultural hegemony. The result has been the development of factions within tribal communities with very different views of dominant institutions and the values they embody, and hence, very different definitions of tribal identity. Identity is the core of tribal cultures. If Cornell’s (1988) theory of incorporation is correct, competing views of identity within tribal communities may result in different parenting and child rearing approaches and different definitions of appropriate family and child welfare interventions. Hence, a number of crucial questions emerge. To what degree does consensus on acceptable child rearing and child treatment exist within a given tribal community? To what degree is there consensus on appropriate interventions in cases of child maltreatment? What are the perspectives of tribal child welfare and health care staff, and of tribal judges and leaders? In cases of disagreement, are there identifiable groups that share particular perspectives? Do differing and competing definitions of tribal identity result in different child rearing practices? Does the Indian Child Welfare Act allow sufficient flexibility to support community-defined systems and interventions? Given the paucity of answers provided to these questions by existing research literature, Paper 3 proposes research methods for exploring the answers to these questions within an Ojibwe context.
Photo: Ojibwe Mother and Child ( Source )
Armitage, A. (1995). Comparing the policy of aboriginal assimilation: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Vancouver, Canada: UBC Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1994). Structures, habitus, power: Basis for a theory of symbolic power. In N.D. Dirks, G. Eley, & S.B. Ortner (eds.), Culture/power/history: A reader in contemporary social theory (pp. 155-199). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cornell, S. (1988). The return of the Native: American Indian political resurgence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dirks, N.D., Eley, G., & Ortner, S.B. (Eds.)(1994). Culture/power/history: A reader in contemporary social theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Eagleton, Terry (1983). Literary theory: an introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Fleras, A. & Elliot, J. (1992). The ‘nations within’: aboriginal-state relations in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press.
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Gramsci, A. (1994). The sovereignty of law. In R. Bellamy (ed.), Antonio Gramsci: Pre-prison writings (V. Cox, Trans.), p. 87-90. New York: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1919)
Hand, C. (1999). Indian child welfare within the context of United States child welfare policies, practices, and paradigms: Rescuing children of homogenizing America? Docor of Philosophy Preliminary Exam Paper 1 – General problem or substantive area: General child welfare. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Hand, C. (1999). Indian child welfare within the context of United States child welfare policies, practices and paradigms: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? Doctor of Philosophy Preliminary Exam Paper 2 – Relevant theoretical literature – Differential power and Indian child welfare. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Hand, C. (1999). Indian child welfare within the context of United States child welfare policies, practices and paradigms: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? Doctor of Philosophy Preliminary Exam Paper 3 – Exploring Ojibwe “incorporation” through past and present Indian child welfare practice. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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Zald, M.N. (1981). Political economy: a framework for comparative analysis. In J. Pfeffer (Ed.), Power in organizations, pp. 221-261. Marshfield, MA: Pitman.