Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Anthropology | Other Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology
For centuries, Native American women have been presented in a variety of stereotypical manners, from the “squaw–drudge” workhorse to the “Indian princess.” From literature to film, they have been presented often in less-thandignified ways and usually in subservience to their fellow men. Another way in which these perceptions may have infiltrated the minds of the average American adult or child is through the tours and displays of the many museums offering exhibits on Native Americans across the country. This thesis focuses on the representations of Native American women in a selection of such museums. With the aim of experiencing the museums as a regular guest, I analyzed how Native women are presented in exhibits based on the images and descriptions on display. The choices that go into the production of a museum exhibit often reflect the mindsets of its creators. Attention was focused therefore on who create the displays and how the exhibits are designed. My study is limited to seven museums in order to focus data on one region. The list of museums visited includes: the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, New York, which houses daily demonstrations of Iroquois craft making; the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, New York, highlighting the Iroquois people’s contemporary and historical creative arts; the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Ledyard, Connecticut, the largest Native American museum in the country; the New York State Museum in Albany, which exhibits a life size Iroquois longhouse and a multitude of dioramas; the George Gustav Heye Museum in New York City, predecessor to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in the nation’s capital; the NMAI itself, as the newest museum on the National Mall; and the Canadian Museum of Civilization near Ottawa, in Quebec, which has an extensive collection in their First Peoples exhibits. This selection of museums allows me to compare the similarities and differences between museums focused on specific tribes or diverse societies, between the different Iroquois museums, and between those sponsored and operated by whites or those by Native Americans. The copious notes that I compiled on exhibit details showed me that the museums either broadly reflected, or attempted to mitigate, popular stereotypes. My data reveals the necessity of collaborative efforts between Native populations and museum curators to establish responsible representations of Native American women.
Knapp, Heather Lauren, "Representations of Native American Women in Museums" (2006). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 648.
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