For 20 years, Nebraska’s Margaret Jacobs has studied the removal of indigenous children from their families during the settlement of America’s West by white Europeans.
Though she has written extensively on the subject from a historical perspective, Jacobs will now have the opportunity to answer questions about how the United States can reckon with this hidden history as a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellow.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York announced April 25 that Jacobs, Chancellor’s Professor of History and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Nebraska, is one of 31 scholars and writers selected for the prestigious honor. The award grants each recipient $200,000 over two years to complete a major project. Winners were chosen by a jury from a pool of 270 nominees.
Jacobs will take a two-year sabbatical to research and write a book asking how the United States can confront and take responsibility for the human rights abuses against indigenous children, their families and nations that occurred when children were forced into Indian boarding schools in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Similar actions were taken in other countries as Europeans settled.
“Both Australia and Canada have had major public inquiries into this phenomenon, and I’ve followed and researched both,” Jacobs said. “I’ve always been thinking about why this isn’t happening in the United States, and if it did, what would that look like?”
Jacobs started Native American research as a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, where an American Indian colleague, Annette Reed (Tolowa), often shared stories and a different historical perspective from what Jacobs had heard as a history major at Stanford University.
“She often had things to say about something we were reading or discussing and I thought, ‘I have never heard any of this,’” Jacobs said. “I was already interested in women’s history and I became fascinated by Native American history, particularly the ways in which white women became involved in carrying out a lot of policies toward American Indian children and families.”
Her resolve to continue that work came from a personal connection she felt to the mothers of the children who were sent to the boarding schools.
“I went to Australia in 1998 (to research the Stolen Generations acknowledging the forced removal of indigenous children from their families), and I had left my own small children at home — they were 2 and 5 at the time,” Jacobs said. “I was there for two weeks and I was really missing my children and was hearing all this discussion about indigenous children, and I thought, ‘wow, what would that be like to be a mother and the authorities can just come in and take your children away and you can’t do anything about it?’”
She will continue asking these questions through her Carnegie Fellowship research project, which will also include a podcast of interviews with people who have confronted and sought to make redress of these past abuses, and a future symposium at Nebraska that brings together scholars and people involved in reconciliation movements from around the world.
“I think it would be beneficial to talk about the value of the reconciliation process, as well as the potential drawbacks,” she said.
Jacobs will officially start her project in August with research to South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and Australia — all countries with historical reconciliation efforts.
“It was an intense nomination process, but it is so fulfilling to receive the award that will allow me to complete this research,” Jacobs said.