SAN FRANCISCO, CA – California came into the Union as a free state in 1850 with a constitution that banned slavery. So how did white settlers in the mid-19th century get away with enslaving Indigenous children, some of them as young as 2 years old? And why does this little known, terrible chapter of California history matter today?
Today, the ACLU of Northern California released the third episode of Gold Chains, our podcast about California’s hidden history of slavery. “Indigenous Injustice” examines a 19th century state law called the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that effectively legalized Indigenous child slavery and encouraged kidnappers to snatch Native children from their tribal communities.
“The horror of what happened in California, the genocidal violence against Native people, and especially the enactment of that violence against children, is unfathomable,” said historian Stacey Smith, who appears as a guest on the show.
“Indigenous Injustice” isn’t just ancient history. Over time, the practice of forcibly separating Native children from their tribal communities has taken on many forms. There were the so- called Indian Boarding Schools. A variety of other government-sanctioned adoption schemes have funneled Indigenous children into Non-Native, mostly white households.
Currently, there’s a landmark case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 9 – Brackeen v. Haaland – that deals with the very same issue of the forced removal of Native children from their families, tribes and tribal culture. It threatens to dismantle the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which was passed to prevent Native children from being removed from their communities.
The American Civil Liberties Union, along with 12 ACLU affiliates (
“Indigenous Injustice” is a timely story that connects the dots between Indigenous child slavery in California to the present.
Link to Episode Website