Indigenous ‘welfare’: Laura Landertinger, Child Welfare and the Imperial Management of Childhood in Settler Colonial Canada, 1880s-2000s, PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 2017


Abstract: The Canadian child welfare system perpetuates deeply colonial relations. Indigenous children are being removed en masse, die at exceptionally high rates in the system, and the child welfare personnel is primarily drawn from the white settler society. This dissertation seeks to find answers to the question of how this present-day reality came to be and how Indigenous child removal can continue so vigorously.

This dissertation is a genealogical inquiry into the beginnings and development of the Canadian child welfare system. Through extensive archival research, it traces how this institutional framework re-articulates relations of coloniality – relations through which Indigenous peoples are rendered subjects to be managed and white settlers are re-inscribed as dominant, superior, and – despite the enormous violence that underpins their subject positions – as ‘caring’.

This dissertation advances the argument that the management of childhood is of central concern to the colonial/racial state. Child welfare emerged as an imperial project, for the purpose of white settler colonial nation-building. Animated by a colonial concern that the white race be preserved, early child-rescue initiatives focused on ‘saving’/managing the damaged but salvageable white settler child. These children were to be prevented from ‘sinking’ to the level of the Indian or racial Other, and molded into useful citizens for the white settler colony.

At the turn of twentieth century, Indigenous children were rendered extraneous to the emerging field of child welfare. State interest in the Indigenous child was an annihilative and carceral interest, animated by the idea that Indigenous children had to be removed and contained in institutions (i.e. Indian Residential Schools). While Indian Residential Schools were eventually phased out, the colonizers’ focus on Indigenous child removal remained. Indigenous child removal emerged as a central modality of colonial power, the intent of which was to effect Indigenous erasure and dispossession for the proliferation of the settler colony. This modality of power continues through the child welfare system today, sustaining the settler society’s annihilative and accumulative impulse, continuing to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands and sovereignty.

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