Monuments for Indigenous People with National Identity Are More Powerful


Most people assume that the memorials for indigenous people should only focus on indigenous people’s views about what monuments to build. However, some monuments show that the ones meaningful to indigenous people may not have the same power for other groups of people. In this digital exhibit, I want to argue that for making the monuments powerful to ordinary people, national identity should be contained. In the first and second memorials, the monuments lacking apparent national identity are meaningful to the indigenous people but are not easy to understand by others. In the next two monuments, the indigenous identity is shown, leading the people to pay attention to the marginalized indigenous people. 

Turtle Sculpture (Identity Restoration) Near Toronto City Hall

Part 1: Memorials without National Identification

Identity Restoration Monument

There is a giant turtle sculpture in the center at the Nathan Phillips Square outside the Toronto City Hall. In recognition of residential school survivors, this memorial is one of the Indian Residential School Survivor Legacy projects.

This sculpture, named The Restoration of Our Identity, designed by Anishinaabe artist Solomon King, shows a turtle climbing over a boulder, representing the struggling experience of the Indian residential school survivors and their resilience, as well as the triumph of the indigenous people against the suppress.

Turtle Island is a native American folklore about the creation of the earth's land. And the turtle climbing on a boulder symbolizes that the indigenous people's identity is restored. Like Peters said, "The turtle takes us back to our lands" (Johnson). The indigenous people are not forced to study in residential schools anymore. They have the choice to keep their culture and tradition now.

While this turtle is meaningful to the indigenous people, other peoples could not easily relate it to the indigenous people and the Indian residential school. As said by Christa Olson, "persuasion and identification rely on shared meaning," and "texts, images, and objects must be mutually intelligible to gain influence" (5).  Here, Turtle Island contains shared meaning to indigenous people, but not to other groups of people. So, I would argue that this sculpture is meaningful to indigenous people but not powerful in terms of recognizing Indian residential school survivors by others.


Monument for the Whitehorse Residential School Survivors

Unite Together 

This monument is located in the largest city in northern Canada, recognizing the Whitehorse residential school survivors. The Whitehorse Indian Mission School was operated from 1947 to 1960, mainly for the Yukon aboriginals in Canada.

Nine wooden stools circulate the concrete, and each of them is different, representing the nine Yukon First Nation Languages. According to Ken Anderson, the artist designed this monument, the openings in the circle of stools welcome those who did not experience residential school (McColl). To my understanding, their intent is good, and the survivors from the residential school could recall their experience when they are sitting on the stools. However, other peoples could not easily understand the meaning of stools. They could ask why there is an etching about residential school? The racial makeup of Whitehorse is mostly made up of Europeans, while about 18% are Aboriginals (Statistics Canada). Many of the local people may not understand the intention of the designer. To make more people recognize and respect indigenous people’s culture and history, a more powerful monument showing their indigenous identity would be better. If there is a sculpture of indigenous people sitting on the stool, people could easily understand what this monument is about.



Dignity of Earth and Sky (Statue to Honor Lakota and Dakota Peoples)

Part 2: Memorials with National Identification

Dignity of Earth and Sky

Dignity is a 50 feet high statue located in South Dakota in the US. It is a gift from Norm and Eunabel McKie of Rapid City to celebrate South Dakota's 125th anniversary of statehood. This sculpture was designed by Dale Lamphere to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. According to Lamphere, "Dignity represents the courage, perseverance, and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota" ("Dignity: of Earth & Sky").

This statue depicts an indigenous woman wearing a dress patterned after a two-hide native dress of the 1859s. Even for someone who never heard about indigenous people before, he could quickly know this statue represents a group of people with different cultural backgrounds based on her dress. The indigenous subjects in images could serve as representative members of the national body and could convene national identification (Olson, 1). Meanwhile, three Native American models ages 14, 29, and 55 were used to perfect the face of Dignity ("Dignity: of Earth & Sky"). Thus, the Lakota and Dakota peoples' identity was shown by the wearing and the face of the woman. People could have different understandings of this sculpture, like dignity, hope, and resilience, but all of these feelings are related to the indigenous people. For example, people may think the star quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond glittering in the sun serves as a representation of honor and admiration in Native American culture. This statue is popular, and since its installation, it has wowed visitors from across the world ("Dignity: of Earth & Sky").


National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument is a war monument located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada that recognizes and commemorates the indigenous Canadians serving in the wars to defend Canada.

Four soldiers and four animals are in this statue. Four soldiers are under the eagle, representing First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. For the people belonging to these indigenous groups, they may know which figure represents their nation. Even for the non-indigenous people, they could easily know these groups of people are different from themself. The hair and the face together represent the identity of the native people. And these national identification make this monument powerful to other people. The indigenous people may argue that the four animals are also significant, showing the admired qualities: the elk for its sharp senses, the buffalo for its tenacity, the bear for its healing powers, and the wolf for its family values, and the egal represents the Creator ( This is true that these animals are meaningful to indigenous people, but only with the native people in this monument, other groups could know the whole story is about the indigenous people and try to appreciate the qualities shown by the animals. Within this context about indigenous people, people are not treating the four animals as normal animals anymore. They are the animals representing qualities of indigenous people, and this could be understood widely now. And this monument could lead people to pay attention to the marginalized indigenous people.


1. Johnson, Rhiannon. “Turtle Sculpture to Be at Centre of Indigenous Healing Garden near Toronto City Hall | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 15 June 2018,

2. Olson, Christa J. Constitutive visions: indigeneity and commonplaces of national identity in republican Ecuador. Vol. 9. Penn State Press, 2013.

3. McColl, Karen. “'Join the Circle': Monument Invites Conversation about Yukon Residential School | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 12 Oct. 2018,

4. Statistics Canada. 2017. Whitehorse [Census agglomeration], Yukon and Yukon [Territory] (table). Census Profile. 2016 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2016001. Ottawa. Released November 29, 2017. (accessed November 1, 2020).

5. “Dignity: of Earth & Sky.” South Dakota Department of Tourism,

6. Canada, Veterans Affairs. “National Aboriginal Veterans Monument.” National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials (NICMM) - Memorials - Remembrance - Veterans Affairs Canada, 15 Oct. 2020,