Spectacular Native performances: From the Wild West to the tourist site, nineteenth century to the present

Scarangella, Linda.   McMaster University (Canada) ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2008. NR62784.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation engages with anthropological debates of the representation of Native peoples in performance through a series of comparative case studies that examine Native North American participation in Wild West shows. Using multi-sited ethnographic and ethnohistorical approaches, it investigates the experiences of some Native performers with the top Wild West shows historically (1885-1930), of three Mohawk families who performed in a variety of spectacles (early 1900s), and of contemporary performers in Wild West show re-creations at EuroDisney (France) and Buffalo Bill Days (Sheridan, Wyoming, U.S.A).

This research focuses on Native performers' perspectives and experiences in order to complicate the picture of exploitation and commercialization in this context. In this dissertation, rather than focusing solely on the production of stereotypes, I trace the extent and various forms of Native agency and expressions of identity through a series of encounters that occur in a Wild West show "contact zone." Drawing on the concept of transculturation, I argue that Native performers adopted and used contact zone encounters as a space to express their opinions or to maintain, express, and/or contest Native identity. I thus elucidate the various forms of agency that Native performers have wielded, whether expressive, communicative, performative, or agency of cultural projects. A "cultural projects" approach to agency considers Native performers own goals and social relationships in addition to the socio-political constraints and power relations that structure their lives. Native performers had their own cultural projects; they actively pursued the opportunities and benefits of working in Wild West shows. I argue that narratives of opportunity, success, and pride found in the employment encounter, in oral histories of Mohawk performers' experiences, and in interviews with contemporary performers, represent agency of cultural projects. Oral histories from Mohawk performers' descendants and their interpretations of the archival record were crucial for revealing and substantiating these alternative perspectives of Native experiences in Wild West shows and spectacles.

Indexing (details)

Literature indexing term
Cultural anthropology;
Native American studies;
Performing arts
Burk, Martha Jane Cannary (Calamity Jane) (1852?-1903)
0326: Cultural anthropology
0641: Performing Arts
0740: Native American studies
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Social sciences; Exploitation; Native performers; Wild West shows
Spectacular Native performances: From the Wild West to the tourist site, nineteenth century to the present
Scarangella, Linda
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 71/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
McMaster University (Canada)
University location
Canada -- Ontario, CA
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL