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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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More spiritual than religious? Perhaps a messianic God-fearer?

PATH UP - MORGUEFILEAccording to various polls a great many Americans consider themselves more spiritual than religious, and more than a few are disenchanted with organized religion and do not hold clerics in especially high esteem. If you belong to this fraternity you have landed on the right doorstep. CLICK TO READ MORE

Green cemeteries: An alternative to environmentally-unfriendly burials!

  Most of us naturally resist thinking about our earthly demise and the “disposal” of our remains. We Baby Boomers likely tend to harbor hope that we will somehow cheat death — or at least put it off for 100 or more years. Whether you happen to live 100 years or more, one day you will “pay the piper” — that is, kick the bucket, buy the farm, cash in your chips, etc. For us American Indians death is simply a matter of changing worlds. We trust that the Great Spirit/HaShem/God is not a jack booted thug intent on consigning most people to some sort of eternal torment for missteps committed during a handful of years or decades but, rather, is intent on reconciling most of humankind to himself. You may disagree — which is something we American Indians respect — though I personally am hard-pressed to understand people who promote a theology which portrays God as a judge who (to be honest) differs little from those who populated the “People’s Courts” in Nazi Germany. Be that as it may, I am here to place before you something more pragmatic — more “here & now” – namely how you will dispose of your mortal remains. Many will opt for being embalmed and buried in an airtight coffin that is sunk in a concrete jacket so as to minimize deterioration through time. This is a personal choice, though there are powerful arguments against this — if only because embalming fluid and such has a deleterious impact on the local environment. If you are open to an alternative — something ”green” — consider having your mortal remains disposed of in a green cemetery (If it could be pulled off I’d argue for the establishment of burial platforms much like my Plains Indian ancestors and brothers utilized in various localities. There is something inherently appealing about raising a body up to meet the world above and beyond IMO):

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3947912/ns/us_news-environment/t/texas-cemetery-offers-green-burials/

http://www.greenburials.org/FAQ.htm – includes a list of green cemeteries

http://www.ethicianfamilycemetery.org/ – for my fellow Texans & interested others

Nota Bene: I have no financial or other ties to MSNBC or the Ethican Church or the Ethical Family Cemetery.

Copyright 2012 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved but spread it around anyway.

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