Watchlist: ‘How the U.S. stole thousands of Native American children’

06.30.2021 Kamiah Koch Watchlist


By Kamiah Koch

Smoke Signals social media/digital journalist

The history of residential schools in North America is once again in headlines. The Associated Press reported on Thursday, June 24, that 751 unmarked graves were found at a former Native American residential school in Saskatchewan, Canada.

For this edition’s Native American Watchlist video, we chose the Vox video “How the U.S. stole thousands of Native American children.” This video published in 2019 is 14 minutes long and narrates the history of stolen children from Native lands. Contrary to what some may think, the story of stolen children did not end when residential schools closed.

Instead, Vox’s video follows two eras: The boarding school era and the adoption era.

The story starts by introducing the goals of the American government to exterminate the Indigenous people and take their land. The video explains schools were started to assimilate the vulnerable Native children and what life was like for them. They cite mental, physical and sexual abuse, forced manual labor, neglect, starvation and what we are still uncovering today, death.

“By stripping the children of their Native American identities,” the narrator says in the video, “the U.S. government had found a way to disconnect them from their lands and that was part of the U.S. strategy.”

By the time the video is halfway through, the narrator has brought us up to the 1960s. Around this time schools were closing, but another assimilation tactic was taking shape.

The adoption era started with Native children being represented as “forgotten children.” Adoption was cheaper than running federal boarding schools so it was encouraged for Native children to be removed from their families and placed with non-Native families.

Vox interviews Native people who explain their painful experience being placed in new non-Native families.

“Children were taken and believed – like I believed for a long time – that there was something wrong with me, versus something wrong with the system,” says Jane Harstad of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

This video says the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1977 was passed and required states to finally provide services to prevent separating Indigenous families and keep children within extended family. It was a move to protect Native families, yet almost 50 years later, it’s still under attack.

To watch the full video, go to or visit the Smoke Signals YouTube channel and see our playlist “Watchlist.”