Matika Wilbur, an acclaimed portrait photographer and social documentarian, who has been featured in the New York Times, Slate, The Huffington Post, Indian Country Today and O Magazine recently visited the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.
From the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, Wilbur is the founder of Project 562, a multi-year, national photo and video narrative with a mission to reveal contemporary Indian identity of every tribe in America.
“The time is upon us to change the way we see Native America,” Wilbur, a former teacher said. “The indigenous story is a story that honors and respects the original people of this land and it is something that we can all learn from and celebrate.”
The 2010 U.S. census shows approximately 5.2 million American Indians living in the United States and despite the cultural, economic, and political variety and progression of American Indians, misleading, stereotypical images dating back to the nineteenth and even eighteenth centuries still prevail at large in the media.
Project 562, the first undertaking of its kind, will dramatically change that.
In 2013, Wilbur, who studied at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana and the Brooks Institute of Photography in California, sold everything in her Seattle apartment and hit the road. So far, she has visited 262 tribes, gathered hundreds of stories and taken thousands of pictures.
The entirety of the project will conclude in a publication, curriculum and exhibition at The Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum. Currently, Wilbur’s work is exhibited at her tribe’s Hibulb Cultural Center and this spring she has scheduled a show at Harvard University.
“I’ve been connected to the national Indian community since childhood,” Wilbur said, “but to meet people in their own ancestral homelands, to arrive and walk and sleep and join them where they have been for millennia is so deeply affecting and important in getting right what we are doing.”
Project 562 will take Wilbur to all 562 federally recognized tribes in America. In seeking these healing images and stories, for three years, Wilbur has driven more than a quarter million miles and received welcome from hundreds of sovereign North American indigenous tribes on their own lands.
These individual tribes, from Alaska to the Southwest, Louisiana to Maine, have offered her their unique creation stories as well as communal and personal narratives; methods of tribal “becoming” and teaching for youth; specific histories and reflections on their near genocide in “manifest destiny”; their legacies of survival through political and legal battles for sovereignty; sacred songs and ceremonies; and their up-to-the-moment struggles, achievements, and aspirations to maintain cultural legacies while co-existing as part of the United States.
The tribes have shared with Wilbur, the treasures and ravages of their ancestral territories, from the stunning beauty of the waters of Havasu to the rapacious “fracking” of Navajo country. Wilbur has realized in these encounters in a range of landscapes one of the most vital truths of her journey: Indian identity is inextricably linked to native lands.
She has witnessed the aggressive encroachment on Indian land for development and for water and other natural resources, countered by the tireless will of peoples threatened, or in some cases wholly displaced, to preserve or recover their ancestral environments.
Throughout this intense sojourn, Wilbur’s output as a fine arts photographer has produced the most extensive, exquisite visual portrayals of Native Americans ever conceived.
Her work is organizing the impressively multi-faceted, complex views and voices of the existing state of Indians, an unprecedented, tribally-collaborative “Native Americana”, accompanied by a brilliant and engaging travelogue via her blog, videos, and social media presence. please visit: www.project562.com