There is a tendency for most of us to think of Native Americans as they were in the past—or in the words of photographer Matika Wilbur, a “leathered and feathered vanishing race.”
The fact is, there are Native Americans from all walks of life, but they are rarely represented in the media. Indeed, Wilbur cites: “Between 1990 and 2000 there were 5,868 blockbuster-released films. Twelve included American Indians. All of them showed Indians as spiritual and in tune with nature, ten of them as impoverished and/or beaten down by society, ten as as continually in conflict with whites. However, the image of the professional photographer, the musician, the teacher, the doctor—they were largely absent.”
This lack of accurate representation isn’t just offensive and misleading, but it can have a detrimental effect on the self-esteem of young Native Americans. Wilbur goes on to say that when these images are “shown to a young Native person, they report feeling lower self esteem and depressed about what they are able to become or likely to become. Shockingly, when shown to the white counterpart, their self esteem is raised.”
In attempt to counter this, Wilbur, who is Native American herself, has launched Project 562. The number 562 is in reference to the number of Federally-recognized tribal nations in the US.
Wilbur’s subjects, including Gloria Grant, the Associate Superintendent of the Chinle Unified School District in Chinle, Arizona shows the remarkable diversity of the Native American community.
Wilbur says she hopes to eventually photograph members from all 562 tribes and plans to publish a book. She views herself as someone who is “just skimming the surface” of Native American diversity and expresses a wish that others will photograph each tribe in greater depth.
In the meantime, check out her work here and listen to Wilbur explain in her own words explain how and why she embarked on this project.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise