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Humanitarian Elimination: Indigenous Assimilation, State Building, and Settler Biopolitics in the United States, Australia, and Canada

  • Journal of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • 2023, 80(3), pp.385-434
  • DOI : 10.17326/jhsnu.80.3.202308.385
  • Publisher : Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : July 11, 2023
  • Accepted : August 8, 2023
  • Published : August 31, 2023

Sung Yup Kim 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In the late nineteenth century, the United States, Australia, and Canada launched comprehensive assimilation policies targeting indigenous children. These initiatives took shape amidst ongoing concerns with humanitarian protection. Emerging in the context of early nineteenth century AngloAmerican imperial discourse, humanitarian protectionists argued that in order to civilize indigenous peoples while protecting them from settler violence, centralized state power should reach deep into indigenous communities, reshaping every aspect of their existence from familial relations, sexuality, and communal life to everyday habits. In implementing this idea with the vastly expanded state power of the late nineteenth century, governments in all three countries sought to ‘rescue’ indigenous children from the ‘degenerative’ influence of their parents’ generation, and ultimately incorporate them into the racial and gendered order of settler society. The U.S. and Canadian assimilation policies hinged on state-run boarding schools for indigenous children, whereas the Australian policy focused on the biological absorption of “half-caste” indigenous children through adoption into white families. Despite these differences, underlying the assimilation policies of all three countries was what can be termed a new settler biopolitics, in which only the young generation of indigenous peoples, on condition that they are successfully transitioned into modern individuals, would be allowed to survive, while the older generation was categorically excluded from the settler states’ biopolitical regime and thus slated for extinction. While departing from the more rampant and conspicuous colonial violence of earlier periods, ultimately what the new state-led initiatives sought to achieve, armed with the technologies of modern governmentality, was firmly in line with settler colonialism’s ongoing drive to eliminate indigenous presence by weakening the collective resources and structural foundations of indigenous communities. In fact, by professing a concern for humanitarian protection and scientific management, the new mode of settler governmentality enabled settler states to more quietly but effectively facilitate the elimination of indigenous peoples.

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