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
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.
|"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"
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
Published in association with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.
Cathleen D. Cahill is assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico.
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