Monumental memories: the Bear River massacre, gendered settler-colonial violence, and decolonization in public history

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Though the Bear River Massacre (also known as the Baker Massacre or Marias River Massacre) remains an important part of the tribal history of the Blackfeet Nation today, the only permanent American public historical representation of the massacre is a marker installed by the Montana Department of Transportation. Through examining the Montana Historical Highway marker program's development from tourist attraction to public historical tool, my work revealed the entanglement of collective memory, Native peoples, and gender in Montana history. I examined the role of Piikani women in surviving the massacre and current-day massacre commemorations. I also analyzed current-day decolonization efforts at public historical institutions, including museums and historic marker programs. Through reframing the massacre from the perspective of Piikani women, I showed how Native women's stories are silenced in public history and how women of the Blackfeet Nation push back on these silences. I also revealed how violence against Native women, including suppressing or erasing tribal history, is part of a broader process of settler-colonialism and the attempted extermination of the Blackfeet Nation. Overall, my project discussed how marker programs can function as sites of decolonization, especially when markers center the voices of Indigenous peoples and recognize both colonialism and survivance in Indigenous history.




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