By Zachariah Bryan
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.
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?”
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
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.