Date of Award

Summer 8-10-2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Carl Davila

First Reader

Dr. James Spiller

Second Reader

Dr. Paul Moyer

Abstract

From the 1880s to the 1930s, Americans flocked to public performances by Native Americans. As this thesis examines, these events –Wild West shows, dances, living museum exhibits, mock battles with torturing, and so on—were just as popular in upstate New York as around the nation. Focusing on the Rochester area, managers variously portrayed Native Americans as savage, vanishing, or noble, depending on the prevailing ideologies of the day. Many Natives were divided on participating in these events, although some joined for economic reasons or as chances to modify their traditional cultures outside the pressures of assimilationists in their communities to abandon them. Most New York policymakers, meanwhile, continually pressed for jurisdictional control over the Haudenosaunee and their assimilation as shows gained in popularity. The attention gathered by such performances, however, increased discussions among Natives and whites of the supposed virtues of Native cultures. More people sought to learn about, support, or imitate Native cultures and correct stereotypes of Native identity evident in the shows. Although numerous tropes remained, many Natives and whites used public performances by Natives as a medium to discuss Indian affairs as a whole, which ultimately aided in fostering the public sentiment necessary to transition Indian policies away from assimilation towards more culturally sensitive, yet still problematic, ones, such as the Indian Reorganization Act (1934).

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