"Playing Ourselves": Native Histories, Native Interpreters, and Living History Sites

Laura Peers


This study examines the representation of First Nations cultures, peoples, and histories at six North American public history sites: Lower Fort Garry, Old Fort William, the North West Company Fur Post at Pine City, Colonial Michilimackinac, Waswagoning, and Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. The study examines the history and development of these sites and of their Native interpretation programs. The different meanings that representations of Native histories have for Native and non-Native staff and visitors at these places are also explored. Traditionally, historic reconstructions, the national historical narratives in which they figure, and the representation of Native cultures within such institutions have been shaped by members of the economically and politically dominant class of North American society, and these representations have justified and naturalized the power of that class over Native people. However, I argue that they have come to be sites of opposition to such power and perspectives, opportunities to voice Native perspectives to visitors and administrators. The study thus challenges literature on the hegemonic functions of public history, national history, and tourism by examining the agendas, agency, and impact of Native staff at public history sites.