Science came to the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota in the early 20th century as part of an American government effort to determine who was a mixed-blood. Real, legitimate men of science came to White Earth, men who thought they could determine who among the Anishinaabe there had white blood mixed with their red by careful scientific attention to the shape of their heads, the amount of curl in their hair, and by taking a good look at their feet. These tests were not designed to answer the disinterested questions of pure science, but were rather part of an effort to extend to mixed-blood Anishinaabe the privilege of selling their land allotments to interested buyers, most of whom—it turns out—were not Indian. Today, a good hundred years in the future, only about ten percent of the land at White Earth is owned by Anishinaabe people.
David Beaulieu explores this episode in White Earth history in his illuminating article, “Curly Hair and Big Feet.”