This Benevolent Experiment
Indigenous Boarding Schools, Genocide, and Redress in Canada and the United States
University of Nebraska Press 2015
New Books in EducationNew Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Native American StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network June 1, 2016 Kelly McFall
I grew up in Michigan, in the United States, where I was surrounded by places named with Native American names. I drove to Saginaw to play in basketball tournaments and to Pontiac to watch an NBA team play. Now in Kansas, I live near towns called Kiowa and Cherokee. But for much of my life, despite my profession as an historian, names like these were just background noise in the everyday reality of my life, not reminders of the fact that Native Americans have lived in and with the presence of settlers for centuries.
Andrew Woolford has done much to help me recognize and understand this. Woolford is one of the preeminent scholars on the relationship between “natives” and settlers in the United States and Canada. He is also one of the most thoughtful voices in considering whether this relationship should be called genocidal.
In my discussion with him, we tried to get at the essence of his ideas by looking at three of his works. We begin with the volume of essays he co-edited with Alexander Hinton and Jeff Benvenuto, titled Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America. The book collects the contributions of a variety of authors researching the issue. The essays generally offer focused examinations of specific issues of events. But the editors also offer valuable reflections on what we know and don’t know about the subject. It’s an outstanding resource for people interested in the question broadly. We then move on to Woolford’s own work, titled This Benevolent Experiment:Indigenous Boarding Schools, Genocide, and Redress in Canada and the United States (University of Nebraska Press, 2015).The book is a wonderful examination of the Indigenous school systems in Canada and the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Woolford extracts from his research a wonderful new metaphor to illustrate the way in which genocide worked in North America, one that has much broader utility in the field. And he offers a careful, well-reasoned explanation for why he thinks genocide is indeed the most appropriate term for the cultural and physical violent that characterized the period. Both books are excellent.
Finally, while we didn’t have much time to address it specifically, Woolford edited a recent special edition of the Journal of Genocide Research focusing on the topic. It’s also a rich source of information and insight.
Put together, the three works offer perhaps the best way into the growing field of genocide studies in North America.