Decolonizing Memory Work?
Textual Politics of Settler State Historical Markers Engaging Indigenous Peoples in Kansas
This article examines the textual politics of how Indigenous peoples and Indigenous/settler relations are portrayed by the state-sponsored historic marker program in Kansas. Before statehood, the land that became Kansas was home to several Indigenous nations, including Pawnee, Kansa, Osage, and Cheyenne. It then became part of Indian Territory in 1834 and received additional peoples dispossessed from their eastern homelands. Only two decades later, the newly organized Kansas Territory hosted a series of treaties that forcibly removed these groups into what is now Oklahoma. The Kansas Historical Markers program commemorates this history through several of its 120 textual markers along the state’s highways. Using a methodology focused on textual politics as memory work, this paper uses these markers to analyze how public forms of historical memory commemorate Indigenous peoples and their dispossession by the settler colonial state. While some markers include Indigenous struggles with the state, others utilize texts that reinforce settler colonial attitudes by excluding Indigenous heritage in exchange for those that focus on colonial narratives of Manifest Destiny and economic development. A significant edit of 34 markers in 2010 shows if an anti-colonial process of public engagement in memory work can uncover previously obfuscated and excluded historical geographies and produce a more socially just memorial landscape.
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