HIST 347: Museums, Monuments, and Memory

Here’s the syllabus for my public history course, Museums, Monuments, and Memory.

Canada’s Missing and Murdered Women

CBS News has put together a project to investigate the missing and murdered Indigenous women.  The project highlights the profiles of 306 missing or murdered Indigenous women in Canada. While the project contains the profile of 306 women it is thought that the number of missing and murdered women is much higher with estimates ranging as high as 4,000. women (The Guardian). Some of these women have had their deaths written off as suicides or death due to the weather. In many of these cases the police did not look more closely to see if there was foul play involved.

It appears as though often times the police are unwilling to spend a lot of time looking into these cases because they assume that the lifestyles of these women lead to their disappearance or death. Some of these assumptions made by police are based on racist ideas that they have of the Indigenous people of Canada. These racist ideas are perpetrated by the various dominant narratives that exist in both the United States and Canada. There is no basis for these narratives but there existence shapes the police response to these crimes (CBC News).


Rebecca Adamson

Rebecca Adamson was born 1949 to a Cherokee mother and a Swedish American Father in Akron, Ohio. Through spending summers with her Cherokee grandmother, Adamson learned of her Cherokee historical and cultural roots. Adamson left University of Akron in 1970 in order to begin pursuing her true passion in working with indigenous communities.

Adamson’s work in activism began as she left college. Her first work began with her involvement in a group fighting to prevent Native children from being forcibly placed into boarding schools outside of their communities. These curriculum within these schools lacked any sort of education on Native culture. However, through Adamson’s work Congress released the Indian Education Self-determination Act in 1975, allowing Native communities to run their own schools.

Additionally, due to Adamson’s resume in economics, she began working on a project to help Native communities build their way out of poverty through small businesses. Initially a small project in which Adamson traveled to get additional funding, this idea blossomed into The First Nations Development Institute. This has grown to have connections in over 20 states and 1,000 communities.

Adamson has shown her support for Native people by traveling all over the world to raise awareness. She has spread her interests to Natives also not from Turtle Island, traveling to Botswana and Australia. Paired with this she also serves as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization for International Indigenous Rights. Through all of her non-profit work Rebecca Adamson provides hope that there are genuine people fighting to bring attention to the injustices Native people face all over the world.



Acknowledging Under-Appreciated Aboriginal Activists



Shaneen was born in 1994 and a citizen of the Attawapiskat First Nation located in modern day Canada. What makes Shaneen so amazing is her activism towards a better education for other children in her community. The primary school that Shaneen would go to was shut down in 2000 because of health issues caused by a diesel fuel leak from 1979. When Shaneen began her activism in 2007, her and other children were going to school in “portables” which are comparable to trailer homes converted into classrooms.

The federal government had promised a new school, but once the youth found out that the plan had been cancelled, there was a rebellion. The Attawapiskat youth reached out to students across the country(Canada) and formed the “largest youth driven rights campaign in Canadian history”. Shaneen quickly became the campaign’s face and was soon well known across the nation.

Shaneen inspired a documentary, was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize Award, a novel, and even a character in the DC comic’s Canadian Justice League. She and other students raised public awareness through social media and raised money for a new school. In 2008, Shaneen traveled to Ottawa with her class for the National Day of Action for Indigenous People. While there, she had the opportunity to speak to the Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. During the conversation between her, the Minister, and Elders from her community, Shaneen became very upset after Strahl didn’t show much concern for the lack of resources in the education system, nor did he want to visit the community. It was shortly after this meeting that Shaneen spoke publicly at Parliament Hill and reaffirmed her commitment and the Attawapiskat commitment to solving this problem and that they won’t give up.

A short two years later, Shaneen was killed in an unrelated car accident. She was 15. Even though it has been over 5 years since Shaneen’s death, her commitment to equal education still lives today. Shaneen’s Dream is a youth driven movement that works toward advancing the education funding for First Nation children.



The bravery and the tragedy of Shannen Koostachin

Missing and Murdered Women

The REDress project is often called the Red Dress project, which while accurate, takes away from the play. To redress is to compensate, or to fix; providing a remedy for some ailment caused. Jaime Black, whose epithets always involve being ‘Winnipeg-based,’ started the project of hanging red dresses in public locations to bring attention to the “estimated 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada” in the last thirty years (Toronto Life).

1,200 is the lowest estimate. The NWAC, or Native Women’s Association of Canada, argues that the number is closer to 4,000.

The reasons behind this disparity vary. One accusation holds that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police too often dismiss murders as suicides or drug-related deaths, even as relatives insist that there was “foul play” (New York Times). Similar charges of police oversight are suggested in a 2015 United Nations report on the treatment of aboriginal women by the government of Canada.

Yet there has been little redress. Along the stretch of road called the Highway of Tears, infamous for the amount of women who go missing, still lacks effective lighting or readily available public transportation to dissuade the prevalence of hitchhiking.

The reason for the impoverished state of aboriginal women in Canada has been tied to several sources, one of which was the residential schooling system we discussed in class. The forcible relocation of children in indigenous communities did not fully stop until the mid-1990s, and this is credited with helping to destroy “the social fabric of aboriginal society” (Cultural Survival).

Canada was not alone in the boarding school system. The United States employed this tactic as well, late into the 1970s, and has even less transparency regarding information on missing and murdered women. Native communities in the United States have a similar distrust of the police, and it is readily apparent why.

Take the case of  Edith Chavez. When Chavez went to the police after being abducted, the officers “refused to take [her] statement,” instead deciding to arrest Chavez on the charge of an parking violation years prior. After Chavez’s release, the department released a statement “claiming Chavez smelled of alcohol and had been to a casino” (The Guardian, full story here).

Not to mention that the rates of murder inflicted on indigenous women in the United States is still atrociously high. What steps should we take to redress?

Acknowledging Under Appreciated Aboriginal Activists: Adrienne Keene

Adrienne Keene

Member of the Cherokee Nation who founded Native Appropriations, a blog  focused on the problematic representation of Indigenous people in fashion, film, music, and other means of pop culture.

The blog mainly focuses on issues of cultural appropriation, which is defined by The Writer’s Union of Canada as “the taking – from a culture that is not one’s own – of intellectual propertycultural expressions or artifactshistory and ways of knowledge”.

She draws on taboo contemporary issues regarding Native Americans. Keene addresses day-to-day topics, such as dating in Native communities, as well as navigating the college process as a Native person. In her blog posts, she writes advice to students regarding complaints against affirmative action or in response to difficulties students are having dealing with emotional well-being.

These blog posts are a reminder that Native Americans are contemporary and modern people. They push back on the stereotypes that Native people are people of the past and they sparks conversations that people weren’t comfortable having before.

Angela Mooney D’Arcy

Angela Mooney D’Arcy is a member of the Acjacheman tribe and the founder of Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples. She has spent a good part of her life advocating for the rights of tribes in Southern California who are not federally registered. With her B.A. from Brown University and her law degree from UCLA, she fights to reverse “settler colonial erasure” (Krol) that allows non-natives to continue living in ignorance and ruining the land that is considered sacred. Her organization was created to “protect sacred lands, waters, and cultures” (Sacred Places Institutes for Indian Peoples) through advocating for protection policies for sacred places, creating an online platform for indigenous activists, and assisting in indigenous leadership throughout the community. Her activism has created a large impact in the community in preserving sacred lands and starting the conversation about the difficulties in becoming recognized by the government.





The Lie of Pocahontas

When we were kids, children’s movies were the best. Toy Story, Beauty and The Beast, Emperors New Groove and yes, even Pocahontas. The beautiful story of a young, beautiful Indian women falling in love with the great Captain John Smith who came to America looking for a fresh, new life. Of course, Pocahontas’s father, Chief Powhatan does not approve of the two’s love and wants his daughter to marry one of the tribes mighty warriors.  One thing leads to another and the colonists and the tribe are at war and right as Pocahontas’s father was going to kill John Smith, Pocahontas steps in and tries to convince the two groups to stop fighting and both groups gracefully agree and happily ever after. It was a beautiful movie right?


The Disney movie Pocahontas is a prime example of how from a VERY young age, society directs us away from the truth of what happened to the Native Americans. The real Story of Pocahontas is far from a happy musical love story with a happy ending, like all other Native American stories, is a tragedy.

The true story of Pocahontas: (Brief Summary; More Info Available In Link)

  • John Smith came to the Powhatan when Pocahontas was about 9 or 10, the two were never involved with one another.
  • Pocahontas never saved the life of John Smith.
  • Pocahontas never defied her father to bring food to John Smith or Jamestown.
  • Pocahontas did not sneak into Jamestown to warn John Smith about a death plot.
  • As colonists terrorized Native People, Pocahontas married to a man in her tribe and became pregnant with her first child.
  • Pocahontas was kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall, her husband was murdered and she was forced to give up her first child in hopes to give the colonists an upper hand on the Native Americans and to prevent the tribe from attacking.
  • Pocahontas was raped while in captivity and became pregnant with her second child.
  • John Rolfe married Pocahontas to create a Native alliance in tobacco production. She also converted to Christianity and changed her name to Rebecca.
  • Pocahontas was brought to England to raise money and was then likely murdered.

Obviously there are some differences from what we are taught. The story of Pocahontas is just one story of how poorly Native Americans were treated, there are countless more. All of this information and more in depth information can be found on:



Using the Spotlight

The year is 1973, and, all across America, people are doing what people do every year: they’re watching the Oscars. The hosts announce Marlon Brando as the winner for best performance by an actor for his work in The Godfather, but it is not Marlon Brando who takes the stage. It is Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache/Yaqui woman who, in less than a minute, declines the award for the treatment of Native Americans by the American film industry and for the current events at Wounded Knee.

What was happening at Wounded Knee? A group of Lakota activists with the American Indian Movement (AIM) had decided to occupy the area to protest corruption in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation government (particularly the chairman Richard Wilson) and the failure of the American government to uphold the treaties it had made with the indigenous nations. As they were armed, the American government responded in kind, with tanks, grenade launchers, and the FBI laying siege to the town. The activists also appealed directly to the UN to be seen as independent nations, asking for action against the US government.

Marlon Brando contacted Sacheen and asked her to give a speech for him (if he won the award), which would draw attention to the unfair treatment of Native Americans in the film industry as well as the current events at Wounded Knee. However, when she arrived, she was warned that if her speech went over 60 seconds, she would be arrested, so she improvised the short address in the above video.  (The full address can be read here.) The response was a morale boost among the activists, who, of course, were also watching the Oscars. On Sacheen’s part, she received death threats and claims that she wasn’t Native American, in an attempt to discredit both her and the message that she was sending.

The situation at Wounded Knee resolved with a disarmament agreement after 71 days of occupation. 1200 people were arrested and tried, although charges for some of the leaders were dropped because of FBI manipulation of witnesses. Richard Wilson was reelected chairman. But despite this, America started to pay some attention to the problems that Native Americans face, and the activists inspired others to continue to fight.

Sources: Indian Country Media Network, Reel Injun