New GMU professor Rethinking Native American History

Professor Genetin-Pilawa joined the faculty last year, but has been on fellowships at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress and at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.  He is the author of Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War (UNC Press, 2012), and the co-editor of Beyond Two Worlds: Critical Conversations on Language and Power in Native North America (SUNY Press, 2014). Students on the Civil War may be especially interested in his research on Ely Parker, the Seneca Indian who wrote the the terms of Lee's surrender at Appomattox. 


At the beginning of the semester, which coincides with the beginning of the NFL season, Genetin-Pilawa says he will bring news articles and blog posts for discussions about the Washington Football team's logo and team name and to help students connect the past and present.

“I want the classroom to be a safe space where students feel comfortable to express their ideas and learn from one another,” Genetin-Pilawa says.

The undergraduate course is a lecture and discussion format, while the graduate course will include some hands-on site visits to places in Washington, D.C.

Genetin-Pilawa said the Washington NFL team argument is not just a product of modern advancements in communication; native people have been arguing against inaccurate and offensive imagery since the early 1800s.

“I want the students to think about the way in which museums have portrayed and exhibited culture, particularly native culture,” he says.

Many of the Native American history exhibits depicted in museums were created in the 19th century and early 20th century, he said.

Mason’s proximity to Washington, D.C., is an advantage not just for him, but for students.

“Students can hop on the Metro and be [in Washington] in 40 minutes instead of just reading about it,” he said, noting that there is native imagery all over the city. He is at work on a book about the native histories of the Capital City. The Capitol Building alone has dozens of representations of native people.

Walk in DuPont Circle on Q Street toward Georgetown and you walk across a bridge adorned with dozens of Indian busts, he said. Some of the city’s imagery it is honorable, and some of it isn’t.

Many are images of assimilation, subjugation and the violence experienced by Native Americans in the 18th and 19thcenturies, Genetin-Pilawa said.

Genetin-Pilawa is at work on a book that discusses the multiple ways Native Americans appear in and affect the Washington landscape: as pre-colonial residents, as political actors, lobbyists, and elected officials; and in symbolic representations in public and private art.