FORBIDDEN TO REMEMBER, TERRIFIED TO FORGET

TRUTH, TRAUMA, AND NARRATIVES OF INDIGENOUS HISTORY

Settler societies around the world rest on foundations of violence perpetrated against the original inhabitants of the land. While open conflict has become less common over time, the resulting traumas have been perpetuated by brutal processes of forced assimilation. Even as these societies take unsteady steps towards acknowledging and attempting to reconcile this past, the reality of these histories and their incompatibility with heroic national narratives is a source of inescapable tension. This panel explores these tensions, seeking to carve out space to acknowledge the traumas suffered by Indigenous peoples amidst wider processes of local and national mythmaking.

MODERATOR

KYLE PITTMAN (/u/Snapshot52)

PANEL MODERATOR

KYLE PITTMAN (HE/HIM) is a Nez Perce and Yakama descendant who was raised on the Puyallup Indian Reservation in Tacoma, Washington. He is currently a graduate student at The Evergreen State College studying Public Administration with a concentration in Tribal Governance and is a TA for the Native Pathways Program at Evergreen. Kyle is also moderator of the largest online public history forum known as AskHistorians. His academic areas of interest include Native American & Indigenous studies, American Indian histories, federal Indian law & policy in the United States, and Indigenous research methodologies.

SPEAKERS AND PAPERS

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BERKLEE BAUM (/u/berkleebaum)

FORGETTING THE BEAR RIVER MASSACRE: ANALYZING PHYSICAL MEMORIALS TO EXPLAIN NATIONWIDE HISTORICAL AMNESIA

On January 29th, 1863, General Patrick Connor and his troops attacked the Northwestern Shoshone tribe in their lodges on the banks of the Bear River in present-day Idaho. An estimated 450 men, women, and children were murdered in one day, making the massacre one of the deadliest in United States history. Yet this massacre remains largely unknown in the United States. This paper seeks to answer the question of why and how this massacre has been misrepresented, ignored, and forgotten for over 150 years. It does so by tracking the Bear River Massacre memorialization process through seven physical memorial case studies, which illustrate a past of injustice and willful ignorance. These memorials include one erected by a local community of white settlers, two erected by settler religious organizations, two memorials honoring perpetrators of the massacre, one large mural at a local post office, and, finally, one informational memorial created by the Northwest Shoshone tribe. These sources highlight the importance of three groups on the memorialization of the massacre: the Northwestern Shoshone tribe, who, since the massacre, have been denied both reservation land and the right to control the narrative of their own tragedy; white settlers, who have painted themselves as heroes; and the US government, which has taken the route of quiet amnesia. The findings of this paper highlight the power of physical memorials, and emphasize an important conclusion: those who control memorials have the ability to change collective memory. It is therefore no surprise that memorials have become the focus for campaigns and counter-campaigns around the world.

BERKLEE BAUM (SHE/HER) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, where she completed her MSt last year in Modern European History, focusing on Holocaust memorialization. She is an historian of memorialization and memory, with a specific focus on collective memory of genocide and colonialism. Her preferred sources are physical memorials, and her current research focuses on patterns of memorialization in colonial genocides. While at Oxford she has volunteered and worked at several organizations that examine the memory of contested physical spaces, both in the UK and internationally, including the Contested Histories Project and Uncomfortable Oxford.

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DR. JOSH DAWSON (/u/DrDawsononReddit)

SIGHT UNSEEN: ON VISIBILITY AT THE ASSINIBOIA RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL

Following the publication of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2015, the testimonies of more than 6,000 survivors of Canada’s Residential School System (IRS) became the gravitational centre around which reconciliation discourse in Canada revolved. While the TRC changed the public nature of this discourse, many advocates had been speaking, writing, and publishing materials criticizing the IRS dating back to the first decades of the 20th century. Among these early critics was Dr. Peter Bryce whose work was suppressed by the Federal Government after he found gross negligence on the part of the churches running institutions and a lack of transparency from the government in recording and reporting the deaths of children in the IRS. The continued relevance of such suppression is especially clear today with the discovery of 215 bodies in an unmarked grave at the former site of the Kamloops Residential School in May of 2021.

 

Many Canadians practice what Eve Tuck (Unangax̂) terms “settler moves to innocence” in the knowledge that the government actively worked to suppress knowledge of the schools and that the work of critics such as Bryce fell upon deaf ears. A key feature of contemporary reconciliation discourse emphasizes the lack of knowledge of the IRS because so many institutions were located in remote, rural locations. As its interrogative title suggests, the publication of Did You See Us? in 2021 shifts the discourse from sound to sight and questions this lack of knowledge and visibility in the context of an urban institution, the Assiniboia Residential School, which was located in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. In my paper I propose to examine the implications of the question posed by this title for contemporary efforts at reconciliation and for the public discourse around the IRS such as it circulates in post-TRC Canada today.

DR. JOSH DAWSON (HE/HIM) recently received his PhD from the Department of Comparative Literature at SUNY Buffalo for his dissertation Rethinking Traumas, Silences, and Storytellings: A Comparative Study of Literary Responses to the Holocaust and the Canadian Indian Residential School System. He has received an Auschwitz Jewish Centre Fellowship and has a forthcoming book chapter on the figure of the flâneur in Kafka’s novels as well as an article on Louise Bernice Halfe’s poetics in a special issue of Studies in Canadian Literature on Indigenous Literary Arts of Truth and Redress.

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ELLE RANSOM (/u/anthropology_nerd)

THIRTEEN HEADSTONES: RECLAMATION OF THE UNKNOWN BURIALS AT CARLISLE INDIAN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL CEMETERY

During the late nineteenth through the twentieth century, Native American and First Nations children across the United States and Canada were forcibly removed from their families and placed in residential boarding schools. The schools were social experiments and warfare by other means, an effort to extinguish indigeneity by interrupting the transmission of traditional knowledge and languages, thereby killing Indian cultures.

 

The flagship institution in the United States residential school system was Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle stripped children of their clothing, their names, their hair, their languages, and their cultures. Abuse, disease, and malnutrition were rampant. 10,500 students enrolled in the school from 1879-1918. Only 758 ever graduated. At least 192 perished at school, interred far from their homeland in the unforgiving Pennsylvania soil. Their uniform white headstones provide the only visible monument to this genocidal system. Most markers in the school cemetery display the names, date of death, and tribal affiliation for each individual. 

 

Thirteen headstones are inscribed with a single word: Unknown.

 

In the past two decades, through the combined efforts of still-grieving indigenous nations and historians/digital archivists, the names of the unknown are being reclaimed. This paper briefly discusses the troubled history and memory of the residential schools through an examination of the Carlisle cemetery, before exploring the subsequent collaboration to identify the thirteen. The vital work of reclamation provides an opportunity for the families of residential school survivors to mourn, to honor the lost ones, and to heal from the intergenerational trauma caused by a nation waging war on indigenous children.

ELLE RANSOM (SHE/HER) received her B.A. in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University, and her M.S. in Anthropology from the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include the history of infectious disease, the Native American slave trade, and structural determinates of health. She has bioarchaeology field experience in both North and South America, and assisted with repatriation of illegally obtained Native American remains in New Mexico. She currently works in the medical field.