Taxidermy, as described by Fatimah Tobing Rony, is the practice of making something that is
dead seem alive, such that the taxidermic representation declares its subject “dead.” With
respect to Native Americans, the critical concept of “taxidermy” suggests how attempts to
“preserve” the past often end up as a way of consigning Native Americans to the past — that is,
as “dead” — and thus denying the living present and contemporary realities.
As a critical approach to the representation of Native Americans, “taxidermy,” thus, is not
exactly the same as an approach that draws attention to prejudice, racism, or harmful
stereotypes. In fact, “taxidermic” practices can also be — but are not always — associated with a
sympathetic intent, or a desire to support Native Americans. After all, in making Nanook of the
North, Robert Flaherty actually wanted to deliver a respectful and positive representation of the
Inuit people, one that showed their courage, resilience, and humanity. It is just that essentially
by deploying forms of taxidermic representation, Flaherty also suggested that Nanook had no
meaningful existence in the present.
Today, some activities or events that concern Native Americans remain susceptible to being
framed within the rhetoric of taxidermy. That is, regardless of the ¨positive¨ intent, or elements
of those activities or events, there is included with their representation the message that ¨Native
Americans are no longer present, they belong to history.¨
One event that could easily end up being presented to reinforce existing idea of ¨taxidermy” is
the recent discovery of thousands of Native American artifacts in Camden, New Jersey (see
*Philadelphia Inquirer* article attached here). In fact, many of the readers comments in the
comment section of the original online article already used taxidermic rhetoric to argue away the
importance of the artifacts, which are situated on a proposed construction site.
Write a blog entry (min. 200 words) in which you describe how you would recommend the
staging any or all parts of the presentation of these artifacts to the public so that their
reception would not reaffirm the all-too-familiar, and harmful, rhetoric of taxidermy. Feel
free to suggest everything from ¨public relations¨ aspects to announcements, to presentation in
a museum. Your suggestions should also be somewhat practical. For example, creating a
national holiday is not too practical.