The University of Newcastle, Australia

UON researcher presents at University of California

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Professor Victoria Haskins, Co-director of Purai Global Indigenous and Diaspora Research Studies Centre and a member of the Centre for 21st Century Humanities, recently presented a paper at the University of California, which drew on her latest research into Native American women in the 1920-30s.

Remarkable advocate for the Yurok tribe, Ruth Kellett Roberts

“‘The Indian maiden is not allowed to pine in loneliness’: Ruth Kellett Roberts and the Yurok Club, 1928-1934,” was part of a seminar series at The Institute for the Study of  Societal Issues  (ISSI) Joseph A Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues at the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Haskins uncovered the story of Ruth Kellett Roberts while researching government records in America. Roberts assisted Indian women of the Yurok Tribe of Del Norte County on the Pacific northwest coast of California to find domestic employment in the Bay Area of San Francisco.

“Roberts’ story gives us an insight into the Outing program (a government program designed placing Indian girls and women in domestic employment) as strategy of control.”

“We know in general that sending Indigenous women to work in domestic labour in others’ homes had a truly oppressive effect that generated alienation and a deep bitterness that continues to impact today,” Haskins said.

“However, the remarkable story of Ruth Kellett Roberts (1885-1967) and her advocacy for the Yurok Tribe provides a fascinating insight into relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in the 1920s and 1930s, a time of rapid social change,” Professor Haskins said.

The wife of the accountant of a salmon cannery at Requa on the lower Klamath, Ruth Roberts was befriended by local Yurok women, in particular Alice Spott, and quickly became a passionate supporter of the ongoing Yurok struggle for land and employment.

Over the next two decades, until the closure of the river to commercial fishing, Roberts was a staunch advocate for the Yurok cause, utilising her connections with society women in the Bay Area of San Francisco.

In 1928 she formed a ‘Yurok Club,’ for the young Indian women whom she had assisted in finding domestic situations in the Bay. Her initiative would, however, bring her into direct conflict with the BIA Outing matron who oversaw the placement of other Indian girls in white homes in San Francisco and the Bay.

“In my talk I reflected on the ambivalent and complex nature of Roberts’ advocacy for the Yurok people, an engagement that highlights broader questions around the political significance and impact of women’s work in the home, in the modern settler colonial nation,” Haskins said.

“Roberts’ project offered a different alternative to the traditional Outing program offering a degree of autonomy and power to the Indian women. The Yurok Club presented as confident and modern young women, secure in their culture and willing to embrace the political opportunities offered to them. “

View Victoria's talk below: