Victoria Parker

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



This paper argues that public institutions have an obligation to consider the weight of their responsibility to educate and inform the public about all forms of American history and heritage. Moreover, public institutions should embrace controversy, engage discourse and proactively work on exhibiting balanced representations by re-working or removing antiquated and false narratives surrounding Native American history. In this paper, I proffer solutions from case studies, examples, models, and my own perspective as a Native American tribal member, as to what public institutions and curators can do in the future to deal with cultural dissonance and creating awareness of (Native) American heritage and history.

The goal of this paper is to present solutions specifically focused on public institutions addressing the dark heritage of the United States while struggling with cultural dissonance when dealing with Native American Tribes.[1] For the purposes of this paper, “cultural dissonance” is referring to a cognitive phenomenon related to an uncomfortable sense of discord, disharmony, confusion or conflict experienced by people in the midst of a change in their cultural environment. These changes are often unexpected, unexplained or not understandable due to various types of cultural dynamics. Cultural dissonance often results from challenging long-held beliefs about a fact or subject. The term “dark heritage” is related to tourism that displays or represents a tragedy, atrocity, crime, death or human suffering. For this paper, this specifically encompasses exhibits, sites, and monuments that remind us of negative events of the past. Finally, “public institutions” include museums, historic sites, and statues. The hope is that the analysis in this paper will assist curators and the public in recognizing that they are not divorced from this issue; and encourage the reader to consider and challenge narratives they’ve been presented their entire lives. Hopefully, public institutions will bring Native People into the folds of American society by representing light and dark Native American heritage equally. Awareness and historical education can help society progress and begin questioning public policies regarding segregation, teachings of inferiority, and inhumane treatment of minorities.


This paper was presented at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center Annual Meeting on Community Archaeology and Heritage, March 30, 2019. The conference took place at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center on the UPenn campus.