Phantom Past, Indigenous Presence: Native Ghosts in North American Culture and History

Phantom Past, Indigenous Presence: Native Ghosts in North American Culture and History

Phantom Past, Indigenous Presence: Native Ghosts in North American Culture and History

Phantom Past, Indigenous Presence: Native Ghosts in North American Culture and History

Synopsis

The imagined ghosts of Native Americans have been an important element of colonial fantasy in North America ever since European settlements were established in the seventeenth century. Native burial grounds and Native ghosts have long played a role in both regional and local folklore and in the national literature of the United States and Canada, as settlers struggled to create a new identity for themselves that melded their European heritage with their new, North American frontier surroundings. In this interdisciplinary volume, Colleen E. Boyd and Coll Thrush bring together scholars from a variety of fields to discuss this North American fascination with "the phantom Native American."
Phantom Pasts, Indigenous Presence explores the importance of ancestral spirits and historic places in Indigenous and settler communities as they relate to territory and history- in particular cultural, political, social, historical, and environmental contexts. From examinations of how individuals reacted to historical cases of "hauntings," to how Native phantoms have functioned in the literature of North Americans, to interdisciplinary studies of how such beliefs and narratives allowed European settlers and Indigenous people to make sense of the legacies of colonialism and conquest, these essays show how the past and the present is intertwined through these stories.

Excerpt

It is a story that is familiar to most modern North Americans. When unexplained, sinister, or violent things happen in the landscapes and communities we inhabit, one explanation seems to satisfy us more than many others. Whether accounting for the haunted house down the dirt lane, the spectral woods behind the subdivision, or the seemingly cursed stretch of highway up the canyon, one kind of story in particular helps us make sense of these places: Didn't you know? It was built on an Indian burial ground. It is the stuff of countless local legends told around campfires and at teenage slumber parties, a persistent and ubiquitous vernacular of titillation and otherness. Beginning in the last decades of the twentieth century, this motif has been a tried-and-true element of the cultural industry. In The Amityville Horror, the cursed house that famously sat astride the boundary between fact and fiction in the 1970s also sat upon land where Shinnecock Indians were said to have left the sick to die by exposure to the elements. (Rather conveniently, the house also had a gateway to hell in the basement.) In Stephen King's best-selling Pet Sematary (1983), the “real cemetery,” where those lain to rest rise again, is not the place where locals inter their pets, but rather is beyond it, over a dangerous deadfall, farther into the woods, where the Mi'kmaq people allegedly buried their dead. In the 1990s the breakthrough horror of The Blair Witch Project—a film that intentionally blurred the line between truth- and tale-telling—included a scene in which the three young, doomed filmmakers stumble across mysterious cairns in the foreboding woods of Maryland, immedi-

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