The politics of adoption
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 01:03
Incoming Assistant Professor of History at Emory University Dawn Peterson discussed her research on the politics of adoption in the era of Indian Removal with colleagues and students curious about the complexities of American imperialism on Wednesday afternoon in Oak Hall.
“There is a way, in United States imperialism, of coupling these acts of massacre with philanthropic purposes,” Peterson said. Peterson began her lecture with an example of Andrew Jackson’s contradictory actions during the Indian Removal Era of 1818-1830. She first told the audience about Jackson’s efforts to deprive Indians of their land, but also about how he encouraged the adoption of Indian children, as though saving one child could rationalize the massacre of many others. Peterson explained that it is difficult to get into the heads of white colonists and fully understand why they took the actions that they did in the adoption of Indian children.
Peterson shared the three main questions and concerns which she explored in her lecture: why were so many United States whites adopting Indian children after the Revolutionary War? Why were so many Indian parents interested in sending their children away? And lastly, why were most of the children adopted into the homes of white males?
The expansion of the United States stemmed greatly from the need for more land for plantations, something that was spearheaded by Thomas Jefferson, who spoke out against England’s landowning bans. Peterson explained at length the struggle between England and proponents of American independence, and the struggle between the United States and Indians for land. This led her to discuss the ways in which colonists dealt with Native Americans and the justifications they constructed for either the removal of Indians or their assimilation. Oftentimes, depictions of Native American women were used to show how colonists treated the women better than British soldiers, while at other times they were used to depict white males as defiant against the monarchy. This was especially true of political cartoons. Many political cartoons argued that Indian women had the same reproductive possibilities as white women, that they were separate from blacks and that they could become more white with assimilation.
Issues of gender, race and sexuality also came up during discussions, since most of the adopted children were boys. These boys would often be adopted multiple times by different white households, mostly to improve their political rankings. Though many initially argued in favor of assimilation, massacres and the displacement of Indians would instead characterized this era of United States history. Peterson took questions from the audience at the end of her lecture, in which that addressed more specific issues related to the topics she covered during the lecture.