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From The University of North Carolina Press
Federal Fathers and Mothers
A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933
By Cathleen D. Cahill
400 pp / 6.125 x 9.25 / May 2011
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Established in 1824, the United States Indian Service, now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was the agency responsible for carrying out U.S. treaty and trust obligations to

"Cathleen Cahill's extraordinary book examines the functioning of the Indian Service unlike any previous book. Her superb research makes important contributions not only to the history of American Indians but also to the history of U.S. development, understandings of internal colonialism, and the complex gendered and racial dimensions of Indian-white relations."
— Linda Gordon, New York University

"With fresh, insightful analysis, Cathleen Cahill reveals how ideas about gender, masculinity, and the family influenced and defined nineteenth-century policies about assimilation. Federal Fathers and Mothers is a major and valuable contribution to our knowledge of the Indian Service, its workforce, and their influence on tribes, communities, and individual Native lives in the United States."
— Brenda Child, University of Minnesota, author of "Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940"
American Indians, but it also sought to "civilize" and assimilate them. In Federal Fathers and Mothers, Cathleen Cahill offers the first in-depth social history of the agency during the height of its assimilation efforts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Making extensive and original use of federal personnel files and other archival materials, Cahill examines how assimilation practices were developed and enacted by an unusually diverse group of women and men, whites and Indians, married couples and single people. Cahill argues that the Indian Service pursued a strategy of intimate colonialism, using employees as surrogate parents and model families in order to shift Native Americans' allegiances from tribal kinship networks to Euro-American familial structures and, ultimately, the U.S. government. In seeking to remove Indians from federal wardship, the government experimented with new forms of maternalist social provision, which later influenced U.S. colonialism overseas. Cahill also reveals how the government's hiring practices unexpectedly allowed federal personnel on the ground to crucially influence policies devised in Washington, especially when Native employees used their positions to defend their families and communities.


Published in association with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.



About Cathleen D. Cahill

Cathleen D. Cahill is assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico.



First Peoples books are part of a special publishing initiative among four scholarly presses, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. Books with the logo exemplify contemporary scholarship and research in Indigenous studies. The initiative supports this scholarship with unprecedented attention to the growing dialogue among scholars, communities, and publishers.