"You Think It Strange That I Can Love an Indian"; Native Men, White Women, and Marriage in the Indian Service
Cahill, Cathleen D., Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies
The history of intermarriage between whites and American Indians is a half-told tale. Scholars have produced an impressive body of work on the political and economic benefits that accrued from pairings between white men and Native women, but the literature on relationships between Native men and white women remains sparse. (2) Studies focusing on unions between white men and Native women are often situated on frontiers where whites accepted the relationships (if sometimes grudgingly), particularly when the couples remained outside of white society. Relationships between white women and Indian men, by contrast, were more deeply interwoven into the fabric of white society because of white women's symbolic importance as the moral centers of American civilization. Through their marriages, Native husbands became "Indians in unexpected places," in the homes of white women and therefore in the bosom of white society. Such relationships also stand in striking contrast to the contemporaneous violence perpetrated against black men in the American South over the smallest threat that they might cross the sexual color line. (3)
The few historians who have considered intermarriage between Native men and white women have noted that late-nineteenth-century theories of assimilation contributed to these relationships. Margaret Jacobs has used a comparison of two interracial marriages to establish an important framework for understanding the shifts in America's racial ideologies at the turn of the century. Although Jacobs' evidence is limited to two relationships--she relies on one couple to stand for each phase in racial thinking--she urges scholars to look for more. More recently, Katherine Ellinghaus has uncovered evidence of other such couples. Focusing primarily on male students who attended the eastern off-reservation boarding schools of Hampton, Virginia, and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she recognizes that the schools' curricula encouraged the marriages. (4)
This article demonstrates that there were more of these relationships than historians have suspected, and that the federal government played a significant role--both bureaucratically and ideologically--in orchestrating them. During the closing decades of the nineteenth century, the federal government's strategies for changing Indian societies tacitly encouraged interracial marriage. To implement its assimilation policies the Federal Indian Service, the workforce of the Office of Indian Affairs, hired large numbers of whites and Indians who came to know each other as a result of their employment. Moreover, the rhetoric administrators used to describe the government's assimilation policy offered both white women and Native men compelling reasons to believe that their personal relationships had wider social and political implications. In particular, policymakers emphasized that the household model and family relationships were engines of social change that would bring Indians into the citizenry. This rhetoric led some white women to see marriage to Indian men as a logical extension of assimilation policy. This article also addresses some of Ellinghaus's conclusions. Her comparative study of the United States and Australia suggests that the experience of American interracial couples compared favorably with those in Australia. In particular, she emphasizes the American couples' ability to attain middle-class status. While some American Indian men at the turn of the century were able to achieve middle-class status, my findings indicate that this status was hard won, incomplete, and often contested by whites. (5)
These ideas also speak to broader theoretical issues in the study of colonialism. Anthropologist Ann Stoler has examined familial and sexual relationships as key aspects of larger imperial projects. In particular, she has emphasized "intimate colonialism," which she defines as "the production and harnessing of sentiment as a technology of the state." (6) Stoler has urged historians to explore "intimate sites of implementation"--that is, relationships between colonial agents and the colonized--in order to see this technology at work. (7) It is at the micro-level, Stoler argues, that the complex interactions among race, gender, class, and colonial power are most visible. Other scholars have also begun to explore the ramifications of the intimate and its unfolding across "domestic frontiers" in both imperial (or external) and settler (or internal) colonial systems. (8)
In the United States, the intimate played two important roles in federal theories of assimilation. First, assimilation's success hinged on transforming intimate relations between Native people. Second, policymakers believed that this transformation would be achieved by the creation of close personal relations between Indian Service employees and the government's Indian "wards." For some employees, these colonial strategies intersected with their personal sentiments and resulted in interracial marriages. Following the arc of several of these relationships from courtship through marriage, I explore how this intimate colonialism played out in specific cases, allowing us to con-textualize more broadly Indian-white intimacy and the role of the state in it.
ASSIMILATION POLICY AND THE FAMILY
The idea of "civilizing" and assimilating Indians has a long history in American thought, but it was only after the Civil War that the government committed its full attention to the project. The government's assimilation policy sought to destroy Native nations' cultural and political identities by replacing them with Anglo-American norms of behavior. The goal was to have Indians "fitted for a civilized life" in which their government benefits, guaranteed by federal treaties, could be cut off. (9)
Policymakers emphasized the nuclear family in changing Native behavior, using a tripartite strategy of "land, law, and education" to change the relationships among Native men, women, and children and their land. The General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act, of 1887 began the process of dividing tribally held land into individual family homesteads. Through the Act policymakers hoped to introduce tribal members to ideas of private property and individualism while also dispossessing them of "extra" land. The next generation of Indians would inherit land from their parents or buy it as white Americans did. The Indian Office also sought to impose an Anglo-American legal regime on the tribes. In particular it emphasized the necessity of legal marriage as the first step in organizing property, channeling inheritance, and introducing Indians to the rule of law and the importance of contract. The third component was the development of an Indian education system composed of off-reservation boarding schools, on-reservation boarding schools, and day schools. In these schools, Native boys and girls were taught the skills and gender roles necessary to build families, create homes, and farm their allotments. Policymakers believed that with these three initiatives Indians could be transformed into "civilized" American citizens in a single generation. (10)
Bringing Indians into the nation as productive citizens required replacing the "tribal relation" with nineteenth-century middle-class households and their gendered division of labor and responsibility. This corresponded to contemporary social theory, which asserted that the household stood at the root of the nation's political and economic systems, and that any change in the latter arose from changes in the family. (11) Policymakers believed that instilling new male and female gender roles was essential because together they created a self-supporting and self-perpetuating unit. Once all of the tribes had been broken into individual households, policymakers argued, the government's responsibility and obligations to the tribes would end.
In late-nineteenth-century political economy both manliness and civic identity arose from becoming the head of a household and providing for one's dependents. Senator Henry Dawes, author of the Allotment Act, articulated the promise of federal policy: an Indian man who assimilated would become indistinguishable from a white man. The Allotment Act, he argued, "makes him a citizen of the United States, with all the privileges and immunities and rights of such a citizen." The goal of assimilation was to "take one by one all of these Indians, and making citizens of them ... telling them how to go forth among the white men of this country ... and stand up and take their part in the great work of the governing of the Union." (12)
Changing the behavior of Indian men was essential for making Indian families self-reliant, but changing Indian women was imperative for the long-term success of assimilation. Within the household model of assimilation, women as wives and mothers were responsible for socially reproducing the next generation of citizens. In 1896, the Board of Indian Commissioners insisted, "so long as the mother remains ignorant and degraded the family will have no true home and the children will grow up without proper training." (13) Gender ideology assigned moral influence in the family to women, who would guide their husbands' behavior and reinforce the tenets of assimilation from within their homes. "Soften, purify, and refine the mother," insisted one reservation official, "and the task is more than half accomplished. Her genial influence will mold and inspire the children, and will civilize and elevate the father." (14)
The government worked hard to force Native people to conform to these new roles, focusing primarily on Indian children, who could be taken away from their homes and placed in boarding schools. The curriculum of the government schools emphasized these new gender roles in order to "break the cycle of tribalism" in a single generation. Policymakers also saw the post-educational lives of former Indian students as a bellwether of the progress of assimilation. Administrators believed that the marital arrangements of former students played a significant role in their retention of "civilized" traits. For example, General Samuel Armstrong, founder of the Hampton Institute, wrote: "The family is the unit of civilization ... and the conditions of a pure family living are the first things to be created in educated men and women." He worried that if former students did not marry other educated Indians, they would have "to mate themselves with savages," and under such conditions "relapse was inevitable." (15)
It was the government's emphasis on marriage, gender roles, and family that set the stage for the acceptability of intermarriage between white women and Native men. The process was further encouraged by the Indian Office's use of fictive kinship as a tool of social change. In an insidious effort to disrupt the affective bonds between Native children and their parents, the boarding schools tried to substitute Indian Service employees as surrogate parents for an entire generation of Indian children. This strategy hinged on policymakers' belief that it was environment, not race, that was causing the "Indian problem." (16) As one administrator argued, "[t]he trouble is not in the Indian, but out of him, when good men and women can get at him ... favorable results have followed." (17) As a result, Indian Service employees were instructed to serve as object lessons of gender roles on the reservations and in the schools. (18) Drawing on missionary models of conversion through individual contact, administrators encouraged employees to create close personal relationships with their Indian wards as a way to lead them to civilization. (19)
Policymakers argued that boarding schools would replace the negative influence of a child's Indian parents with the positive influence of white parent-figures. In 1885, the Superintendent of Schools warned that day school students returned home each evening and therefore had not "acquired a distaste for the camp-fire, nor a longing for the food, the home-life, or the ordinary avocations of the white man ... because it does not take him away from barbarous life and put him into the enjoyment of civilized life--does not take him from the tepee into the house." As a solution, he urged compulsory attendance at boarding schools where white employees would teach students to revile their parents' culture. He acknowledged that this might be painful for Native families, but asserted, "its provisions would be the kindly cruel surgery which hurts that it may save, and would in good time cure the Indian race of savagery." (20) A decade later, the Superintendent of Indian Schools entitled his report "The School As A Home." The school, he wrote, "is to the child not only school, but home and community as well." (21) The Commissioner of Indian Affairs agreed: "When the closing hour has arrived teachers and pupils in white schools go to their homes and enjoy around the family circle those pleasures of home life which are characteristic of the American people. The Indian reservation school, on the other hand, must combine both the home and the school." (22) He highlighted the important role of the employees in creating those surrogate homes: "The Indian school is the Indian's home and the success of the present educational policy is largely due to the earnest and faithful cooperation of these patient workers in this great field." (23)
This rhetoric of kinship and family led some white female employees to believe that marrying Indian men naturally stemmed from the assimilation process. If they were supposed to create individual relationships with Indians in order to convert them to civilization, and if white women were supposed to be as mothers and matrons to Indians, then why not wives? If one kinship term was applicable, why not another?
Indeed, their thinking followed the same logic as that of leading figures like Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Richard Henry Pratt, two of the most influential voices in the field of Indian education. (24) Both openly encouraged interracial relationships as the best solution to the "Indian Problem." In 1885, Harper's Magazine reported, "General Armstrong thinks that the pure-blooded Indian will soon die out and the whole Indian problem will at last be solved by intermingling." Pratt's biographer recalled: "He consistently advocated amalgamation by marriage as a necessary and desirable part of the assimilation process"' (25) Historian David Smits has demonstrated that while there was never unified opinion on intermarriage, army officers, reformers, and federal agents did raise their voices in support of the "desirable mixture of the races, the inferior being elevated and finally absorbed and lost in the superior" in official discussions. (26)
The personnel requirements of assimilation programs also contributed to intermarriage by bringing white women and Indian men together as co-workers in the Indian Service. The number of Indian Service employees grew dramatically, from just over 500 in 1869 to almost 4,000 by 1897. In 1882, the Indian Office created the Indian School Service and quickly began to vastly expand its labor force as it built schools and instituted new …
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Publication information: Article title: "You Think It Strange That I Can Love an Indian"; Native Men, White Women, and Marriage in the Indian Service. Contributors: Cahill, Cathleen D. - Author. Journal title: Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies. Volume: 29. Issue: 2-3 Publication date: June-September 2008. Page number: 106+. © 2009 University of Nebraska Press. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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