Bad Medicine: Settler Colonialism and the Institutionalization of American Indians, 1879-1934


ACLS Fellowship Program


Global and International Studies


"Bad Medicine" examines interconnected histories of American Indian punishment, pathologization, and labor exploitation at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879-1918) in Carlisle, PA, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1902-1934) in Canton, SD, and other Progressive era facilities in the United States, such as the Ford Motor Company factory in Detroit. Drawing on a rich array of archival materials and oral testimonies, this research reveals how settler institutions deputized white Americans as the disciplinary agents of Indian people, and how American Indian people uniquely experienced institutionalization as a tool of settler colonialism. In examining diverse institutions alongside one another, "Bad Medicine" demonstrates punitive connections between ostensibly distinct American facilities, and argues that the practice of confining American Indian people helped concretize networks of white racial power. This work builds on extant scholarship in Native American history to demonstrate how the institutionalization of American Indian people was inherent, rather than coincidental, to the broader work of US settler colonialism in this era.