During the twentieth century some Australian states and the U.S. federal government enacted comparable policies that demonstrate how the discourse of protection continued to survive in an era when settler nations were focussed on “assimilating” Indigenous populations. The Australian policy of exemption and the U.S. policy of competency did not represent a true change in direction from past policies of protection. In contrast to the nineteenth century, though, these twentieth-century policies offered protection to only a deserving few. Drawing on records of exemption and competency from New South Wales and Oklahoma in the 1940s and 1950s, this article shows how the policies of exemption and competency ostensibly gave the opportunity for some individuals to prove that they no longer needed the paternalism of colonial governments. They were judged using very different local criteria. In Australia, applicants were mostly judged on whether they engaged in “respectable” use of alcohol; in the United States, applicants were assessed on whether they had “business sense.”

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