Matika Wilbur’s quest to photograph & document untold stories from citizens of every federally recognized American Indian tribe

Woman taking a photoMatika Wilbur’s quest to photograph & document untold stories from citizens of every federally recognized American Indian tribe

 

By
Dr. Anthony G. Payne *
(American Indian name, “Summer Cloud”)

When I was a boy (back in the Middle Ages – 1960s) we American Indians* were portrayed on TV and the movies as hopeless drunks, savages who spoke broken English at best, rapists, turncoats, and other equally unsavory characters. Newspapers and news shows did little better with most of the stories I read or saw focused on Native crimes or poverty, mostly in a “isn’t that too bad let’s move on now” vein. As though this weren’t enough I was surrounded by plenty of white adults and children who thought nothing of tossing out racist jokes and comments about American Indians (and African Americans and Hispanics as well) without batting an eyelash. Bigotry was acceptable and in some quarters applauded.

Of course, much has changed in the intervening years if only the fact overt racism has been replaced in many quarters by subtler versions. Gone are most of the Hollywood movie stereotypes but not the notion among many that American Indians are all steeped in poverty or stone-faced in the face of suffering, past and present.

Enter photographer Matika Wilbur, a member of both the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, who decided to use her considerable artistic gifts & perspective to capture the faces of members of all the federally recognized American Indian tribes in an ambitious project she calls “562” (The number of federally recognized tribes when she began her odyssey in 2010, with more having been added since). In-a-word she wants to debunk the many false, hurtful images and stereotypes that surrounded Native American culture and society and to reassert the fact that Native peoples had not only survived centuries of marginalization, wanton cruelty and wholesale extermination but have held on to their own identities, heroes and sense of pride.

A November 23 2013 piece by NBC news had this to say about Wilbur’s mission:
One of those stereotypes is the image of Indians clad in feathers, nearly naked running across the prairie, whooping it up like what’s oft portrayed in western cinema. Also the caricature image of Indians as mascots.

With that in mind, Wilbur said the project is meant to drive conversations about the ubiquitous appropriation of Native American culture and to discuss how U.S. citizens can evolve beyond the co-opting of indigenous images and traditions.

“I hope to educate these audiences that it’s not OK to dress up like an Indian on Halloween,” she said. “I’m not a Halloween costume. I hope to encourage a new conversation of sharing and to help us move beyond the stereotypes.”

Wilbur added that she hopes her photos — her craft — will display the “beauty of (Native) people and to introduce some of our leaders to a massive audience.”

Wilbur is not, of course, the first photographer to focus on American Indians. In 1906, photographer and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis was commissioned by J.P. Morgan to go out and capture the “disappearing” race on film. Given the fact that over a century has passed since Curtis’s undertaking, Matika’s quest is not just welcome but long overdue.

Readers who’d like to invest in Matika Wilbur’s vision can do so by going to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/matika/project-562-changing-the-way-we-see-native-america/description

* I am a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

© 2014 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. This update copyright 2017 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

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About Dr. Anthony G. Payne

Most of the time you will find me spinning ideas and web content for client firms and especially physicians (MDs and DOs). Among my many passions are helping others help others, word weaving (Published writer & author, ghostwriter, copywriter, proofreader, editor), and art (Mainly sketching. I revel in Jackson Pollock's art and thus enjoy experimenting with his approach combined with those of other artists). Nature is a focus too, reflected in the fact I have been involved in the deep ecology movement since the 1980s and (more recently) the Forest Church movement. I am also a Celtic Christian monk (Novice monk in 2015, full monk in 2017). This is the realization of a calling I have "flirted with" for many moons now. You are encouraged to check out my "Summer Cloud's Spiritual Watering Hole"​ website to learn more: http://summerclouds.weebly.com.

Posted on August 16, 2017, in AMERICAN INDIAN, ENJOY YOURSELF, MINISTRY OF ENLIGHTENMENT and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Matika Wilbur’s quest to photograph & document untold stories from citizens of every federally recognized American Indian tribe.

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