America’s history is often dark and twisted…there’s no denying that. In fact, much of what we’ve grown up learning about Native American people and their culture is either incomplete or simply inaccurate. 

Starla Thompson, a renowned cultural educator, Jingle Dress Dancer, and Forest Band Potawatomi member, is working day and night to change that. 

Of This Place is Starla’s latest example of advocacy — a curated exhibit in the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois that houses a collaborative effort between the Museum and Native people from the Sac and Fox, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe Nations.

The curation is meant to inspire you with contemporary and traditional artworks, all while teaching you about the histories of the represented Nations from their cultural educators and artists.

Of This Place also further highlights the history of indigenous people in America, from assimilation and boarding schools to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) movement

Starla hopes that all who visit and walk alongside the contemporary and handmade artwork can have their worldviews and understanding of history expand.

‘A space to tell Native American experiences’

Part of what makes this latest exhibition in the Burpee Museum so special is the partnership that centers Indigenous voices, Anne Weerda, the Executive Director, details.

“Natural history museums have a big responsibility to share accurate information with our community through research and collaboration,” Weerda notes in the exhibit’s press release

Weerda concluded, “As we collaboratively created ‘Of This Place’, the stories, art, videos, selected artifacts, and text in this exhibit are through the voices and choices of people of the Sac and Fox, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe Nations.” 

Advocating for the Missing and Murdered

Starla has long used her voice to advocate for the missing and murdered indigenous (MMI) community. With Uncovered, Starla shared her expertise in our Indigenous Voices on the MMIP Crisis: A Conversation and Resources video series.

With the Burpee Museum, Starla is doing the same — educating with facts and compassion.

The red handprint across Starla’s face in her moving portrait captured by Joseph Kayne symbolizes solidarity with MMI relatives. The handprint is also an image associated with the fight against the destruction of the natural world and resource extraction. 

Missing and murdered indigenous people remains a topical issue considering over 80 percent of Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime. Staggeringly, in some places, Native women face murder rates ten times the national average — making murder the 3rd leading cause of death for Indigenous women.

“Our relatives need representation, resources, advocacy, policy change, and justice,” Starla details in the exhibit notes.

The exhibit also features additional information on Ashishinaabe Art, Boarding Schools and Assimilation, Historical Maps, Historical Photos, Sac and Fox Art, Modern Tin Type Photos, and Living Traditionally in a Modern Context.

The Of This Place exhibit is open to the public in Rockford, Illinois through January 2023. All are welcome. Learn more here.



Together We Can Build a Community. Our team is taking publicly available data and creating timelines, pulling maps, organizing sources, and visualizing cold cases for more eyes and collective impact.

We're building a community for advocates, citizen detectives, and true crime enthusiasts to use your skills to crowdsource the gaps in unsolved cases to help uncover answers—join the Uncovered community!