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Colonial costuming: representations of playing Indian in photographs, settler Colonialism and the appropriation of native North American culture

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posted on 08.06.2021, 14:52 by Hikka Ingrid Forster
This thesis examines the cultural significance of “playing Indian” in photographs: the practice of non-Native peoples dressing up in Native North American costumes and posing for photographs. It addresses photographs made both inside and outside the studio of people playing Indian, during both the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and looks at the extent to which these photographs reinforce settler colonial ideology prevalent within white society during this time period. Examples from two collections will be explored, portraits from the Notman photography collection at the McCord museum, which includes examples of white Europeans and North Americans dressing up in Native “costumes” and photographs of children playing Indian in the First Nations collection at the Archive of Modern Conflict Toronto. Themes of masculinity, nation-building, “Canadianness,” and childhood in relation to indigeneity are explored by situating the photographs within their historical and cultural context and subsequently relating them to the already existing theories on playing Indian.





Master of Arts


Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type


Thesis Advisor

Thy Phu Marta Braun