The Ones Who Did Not Die: Indigenous Killers, Final Girls, and Captivity Narratives


Assistant Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University Kali Simmons visited Luther on April 12 to speak on the representation of indigenous people in horror cinema. Photo courtesy of Armando Jenkins-Vazquez (‘21)

Indigenous people have been portrayed as violent in contemporary American horror cinema for many years. This was the topic of discussion during Portland State University Assistant Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies Kali Simmons’ visit to Luther College on April 12. 


Simmons, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, gave a talk to Luther students and faculty on the importance of cultural representation in media. She examined slasher films and their tendency to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about indigenous peoples that are based on colonial hierarchies of race and gender. Simmons then connected these contemporary narratives to early colonial texts and the “killer Indian” trope. The talk was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement (CEPE). Associate Professor of English and Director of CEPE Andrew Hageman attended the event and shared why he believes this topic is relevant to Luther and the surrounding community.

“Dr. Simmons’s talk is a vital part of how folks in the Luther College and Decorah communities can engage with popular culture representation, including how to analyze it and why it matters,” Hageman said. “She brings expertise and [a] voice that we don’t have at Luther and that bolsters our mission, especially the mission of the CEPE. Also, Dr. Simmons’s research is a model for current students, and her writing is a model for students and faculty alike, as she’s extremely effective in presenting sophisticated research-based insights to intelligent and curious non-expert readers.” 

There were many people who attended this event that would fall under Hageman’s category of curious non-expert readers; one of them was Nagham Boulos (‘26). Boulos attended to learn more about media representation of minorities in the United States. 


“I heard about this talk through the bulletin board emails and all the signs that were hung up in the Union,” Boulos said. “As an international student, I am always looking for opportunities to learn more about other cultures and minorities that are not always present on campus. It was a good opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and [see] how popular media misinterprets them and [how it] is almost the complete opposite of reality.” 

This event also gave Luther students a greater opportunity to expand their critical thinking skills. Adelaide Muñoz (‘26) was another curious non-expert reader in attendance. She pointed to Simmons’ effective use of evidence as a helpful aid to understanding the topic.

“This event was out of the norm for me,” Muñoz said. “Dr. Simmons did a great job presenting her points through her Power Point alongside movie clips that showed us what she was talking about. As someone who enjoys watching movies and is, in general, just exposed to popular media, I’ll have to admit that I had little knowledge of the reality that these indigenous people face.” 

To prepare for the talk, Hageman promoted the event by sparking interest among students. He explained that the intended effects of such lectures are to educate as well as to send students off with energy for continued and new academic and social activity. Hageman pointed to the allure of popular media and its study as a big way to interest students leading up to the event. 

“I became aware of Dr. Simmons’s work via social media connections, and I was deeply impressed with her research, her game-changing innovations through insights, and her concise and compelling writing,” Hageman said. “I also think that her work in a popular genre makes Dr. Simmons a guest scholar who can attract students’ attention and interest. It worked out wonderfully that the dates I invited her to speak overlapped with some dates that she’s got set aside from teaching.

According to Muñoz, the event did spark her interest for that reason. It also left her with an increased awareness of the importance of media representation and the skills to better analyze what she consumes. 

Leaving this event, it left me thinking about all the movies I’ve seen,” Muñoz said. “It made me realize that there are a lot of minorities and even big cultures that are not represented correctly, and that it creates an idea in the viewer’s head. Dr. Simmons did a great job at spreading awareness and helping us become better [analysts of] the things we see.”


The CEPE will be holding their second annual “May the 4th Be With You” Star Wars Day event on May 4 in Marty’s. Boulos pointed to the value of these events.


“I would completely recommend other students to attend events sponsored by the CEPE,” Boulos said. “They always offer some sort of diversity and you end up learning something new that you can apply to your everyday life.”