October 29, 2012

Project to photograph 562 tribes

One Ballardite's journey to photograph all 562 Native American tribes

By Zachariah Bryan

In November, a local photographer, Matika Wilbur, is leaving Ballard to take up an extraordinary mission: To visit all 50 states and photograph and document all 562 Native American tribes in the nation.

Wilbur (www.matikawilbur.com), who is enrolled in the Tulalip tribe and was raised in the Swinomish tribe, has dedicated much of her professional career to photographing, lecturing on and informing people about contemporary Native American people and culture. In the past, this has dealt mostly with local Salish tribes, but now her goal is to document the entire culture all over the United States.

“I’d like to update the identity of the native American person and create a 21st century image in people’s consciousness, so through that we can build cultural bridges, demolish stereotypes, honor traditions, and leave a legacy,” she said.
And:Her work has been showcased at the Seattle Art Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum of Fine Arts, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts in France and the Kitteredge Gallery at the University of Puget Sound. She has permanent, viewable collections at the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes.

Her next project, “562,” plans to take things to a whole new level.

Wilbur said the plan came from a desire to explain to people that Native Americans are still alive and still have a culture all their own, and not the kind that you see in old John Wayne movies.

“The stereotype is that native people live in teepees and wear leather and feathers,” she said. “People don’t realize that there is very much a living breathing contemporary culture within indigenous communities.”

When she would lecture at other places, particularly on the east coast or in other countries, people were often amazed or shocked that Native Americans even existed.

“When you go to different places in the US and you exhibit your work, people don’t realize we’re still here, you know?”
Comment:  Sounds like a good project with a worthy goal.

Of course, countless exhibits, shows, events, films, and reports have explained that Indians have "a living breathing contemporary culture." Including this blog. Nothing has moved the needle significantly on the "Indians still exist?" scale.

I'm not sure people will get the message until something dramatic happens. Like a no. 1 movie starring an Indian, an Indian pop superstar, or an Indian elected US president. Something of that magnitude.

566, not 562

Meanwhile, whenever I see a notice of this project, I have to point out that there are 566 federally recognized tribes, not 562. When I noted this on Facebook recently, Matika Wilbur herself contacted me. She said 562 was just a starting point--that she planned to cover state-recognized and unrecognized tribes as well as the 562 566.

Okay, I said, but I think Natives will wonder about your project if the name and number are "wrong." Like, "Is she living a decade or two the past, or what? Doesn't she realize there are 566 tribes now?"

If it were me, I'd plan to change the project's name with each newly recognized tribe. Or go with a less precise name. But I'm sure the project will be worthwhile regardless of its name.

For more on photographic projects, see Greatest Photographs of the American West and 100 Years Pueblo Exhibition.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Indigenous Peeper

New photography project breaks Native ground

Quick: close your eyes and envision your own particular image of a Native American.

Perhaps you see a suede-clad girl frantically dancing around a fire; maybe an elder drenched in turquoise, bottle in hand; or worse, one of the many “cigar store Indians” still on display outside many a Santa Fe shop.

Photographer Matika Wilbur is out to change that.

On the road for the next three years, Wilbur took to crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter to fund Project 562—an endeavor that will see her traveling to every tribal nation in the country to document its peoples in an effort, she hopes, “will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes and renew and inspire our national legacy.”