Margaret Jacobs

Portrait of Margaret Jacobs
Image Credit: Craig Chandler

Margaret Jacobs is the Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and the Charles Mach Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She held a Carnegie Corporation of New York fellowship from 2018-2020 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019. In 2015-16 she served as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University. Her research and teaching focuses on women, gender, indigenous peoples, and colonialism in the American West and other settler colonial contexts. She has published over a dozen articles and two award-winning books, Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879-1934 (1999), White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940 (2009), which won the Bancroft Prize, and A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World (2014). Most recently, she is the author of After One Hundred Winters: In Search of Reconciliation on America's Stolen Lands (2021). She has launched a new digital history project on the Genoa Indian Boarding School in Genoa, Nebraska and cofounded a new multimedia project called Reconciliation Rising.

NEW IN 2021: After One Hundred Winters: In Search of Reconciliation on America's Stolen Lands

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture examines recent fraught efforts to acknowledge the painful history of Indigenous child removal and to promote reconciliation in Australia, Canada, and the United States. From 2009 to 2015 the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathered testimony from Indigenous people who as small children had suffered separation from their families, often forcibly, to attend Indian residential schools. In the 1990s, during its Decade of Reconciliation, Australia launched an Inquiry into the “Stolen Generations,” Aboriginal children who had experienced a similar forcible removal from their families. The United States is now beginning to reckon with its own Stolen Generations and its history of Indian boarding schools and other Indigenous child removal. This lecture contemplates what the U.S. might learn from truth and reconciliation processes in Australia and Canada.
This presentation reflects on how white settlers (like me) can work in collaboration with Indigenous partners toward decolonization, healing, justice, and reconciliation. In 2015, while attending the Final Ceremony of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I was inspired to put my historical scholarship in service to healing, justice, and reconciliation. Settlers can start where we are to become deeply familiar with the places we occupy, including their histories of Indigenous dispossession. We can become accountable and use whatever strengths, skills, and resources we possess to work with Indigenous partners to promote historical reckoning and practice healing and reconciliation within our own communities and institutions.
In the second half of the twentieth century, an estimated 25 to 35% of American Indian children were living apart from their families, and they were vastly over-represented in state child welfare systems. To explain this Indian child welfare crisis, government authorities claimed that Indian children were "forgotten" children, and they promoted their fostering and adoption by non-Indian families. By contrast, Indian families and their advocates charged that many social workers were using ethnocentric and middle-class criteria to unnecessarily remove Indian children from their families and communities. Through creating their own child welfare organizations and legal codes, as well as working for the Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian activists and their allies sought to bring Indian child welfare under the control of Indian nations. This presentation examines the debate that ensued over Indian children in the 1960s and 70s and that continues even up to the present in the recent Supreme Court case involving Baby Veronica.
This lecture follows the transnational trails of two Indigenous women activists from the United States and Australia as they discovered the ubiquity of Indigenous child removal in their nations as well as Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. By tracking their movements over national borders and across oceans, this paper demonstrates the crucial role that these and other women activists played in Indigenous movements for self-determination in the late twentieth century.
In the late nineteenth century, the United States government developed a new strategy for dealing with American Indian people. Instead of isolating them on reservations and battling those who refused to comply, now the government established a system of boarding schools for Indian children. At nearly the same time, Australian state governments embarked on a similar policy for Aboriginal children. Officials and reformers in both countries touted their efforts as compassionate policies designed to give these children greater opportunities, but they often resorted to brutal methods to remove indigenous children from their families. This lecture examines the origins, consequences, and legacies of Indigenous child removal in these two nations.
In the late nineteenth century, the U.S. government and Australian state administrations adopted a new strategy for managing their Indigenous populations: removing Indigenous children and sending them to schools and other institutions. White women became key figures in carrying out these policies. Officials touted their efforts as a compassionate departure from the violence of the past, but they often used brute force to remove children, and their policies still served the settler colonial aim of eliminating Indigenous people.