Preferences for Different Representations of Colonial History in a Canadian Urban Indigenous Community


  • Scott D. Neufeld
  • Michael T. Schmitt


When a social group’s history includes significant victimization by an outgroup, how might that group choose to represent its collective history, and for what reasons? Employing a social identity approach, we show how preferences for different representations of colonial history were guided by group interest in a sample of urban Indigenous participants. Three themes were identified after thematic analysis of interview and focus group transcripts from thirty-five participants who identified as Indigenous. First, participants expressed concern that painful, victimization-focused representations of colonial history would harm vulnerable ingroup members, and urged caution when representing colonial history in this way. Second, while colonial history was clearly painful and unpleasant for all participants, many nevertheless felt it was important that representations of colonial history tell the whole truth about how badly Indigenous people have been mistreated by outgroups. Participants suggested these brutal representations of colonial history could also serve the interests of their group by bolstering ingroup pride when representations also emphasized the resilience of Indigenous peoples. Finally, participants described how brutal representations of colonial history could help transform intergroup relations with non-Indigenous outgroups in positive ways by explaining present challenges in Indigenous communities as the result of intergenerational trauma. We discuss findings in terms of their relevance for ingroup agency and their implications for public representations of colonial history.