Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Carolyn Eastman

Second Advisor

Emilie Raymond

Third Advisor

Amy Corning


This thesis examines how Indigenous groups in the United States have contested mainstream historical narratives of America’s founding during major commemorative events in the late twentieth century. To analyze this, I have examined two major national commemorative events during which Native Americans spearheaded a marked shift in the popular interpretation of national origins. The first event I analyze is the 1976 Bicentennial of the American Revolution; the second event is the 1992 Columbus Quincentenary. Native Americans contested the ways that the federal planning bodies for both events represented the history of the nation’s founding. How could they be called on to participate in celebrations that, in their perspective, marked an end to Indigenous sovereignty? Their complaints about the framing of these events as overwhelmingly positive historical contributions produced tangible change in how these commemorations unfolded. I argue that Native American activists’ challenges to conventional, Eurocentric founding narratives promoted by the federally planned commemorations in 1976 and 1992 resulted in the emergence of alternative founding narratives, that presented more complexity and nuance, within American popular discourse. These activists have not been given due credit for their role in the increased awareness of more complex historical understandings of the nation’s founding within the historiography. Moreover, the challenges Indigenous activists brought forth helped to catalyze a shift in the way that historical narratives promoted during these commemorations considered inclusion and diversity.


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