Matika Wilbur, a member of the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes, has spent the last 10 years perfecting a documentary that highlights the modern lives of Native Americans in each of the 562 federally-recognized tribes.
In 2012, she made the brave decision to leave everything behind and set out to photograph Native Americans in their native landscapes, homes, churches, schools, and ceremonies. It is impressive that she has traveled around 600,000 miles and seen places from the Wampanoags in Cape Cod to the Tlingits in Alaska.
As the book title suggests, the initiative aims to “change how we see Native America.”
She expressed her concern about how the world would ever see the modern side of successful Native people if they were always portrayed as a feathered and leathered race on the brink of extinction. Wilbur started Kickstarter funding and is now collaborating with Penguin Random House to publish her book. The book is now available! Recently, Matika started a book tour throughout the country with a stop in Swinomish and then Tulalip. Both tribes have bought enough copies of her book to give to tribal youth.
For every place she visits, Matika begins with 10 – 20 interview questions where she talks about the people’s families, life stories, love, and societal and tribal issues. She then proceeds to photograph the subject. When she started her journey, there were 562 tribes, but today there are 574. Project 562 has driven her to travel hundreds of thousands of miles by foot, boat, train, plane, horseback, and RV throughout all 50 states.
She looks back on a remarkable journey funded through Kickstarter by a large community of online supporters. She sleeps on sofas and is hosted by strangers who become her friends and share ambitions of her project. The project screams craftsmanship and meticulousness -stunning black and white images that carefully incorporate color and shed light on their subjects with the landscape they steward and live in.
The photographs tell a compelling story of modern Native American people – all photographed in poses, clothing, and places of their choice. Their narratives touch on cultural and personal identity along with issues of sovereignty, media representation, family, faith, language preservation, protection of sacred sites, arts, education, and more.
Matika only shares stories that Native Americans would like told to the world. “I think I view it as an act of service, spreading messages entrusted to me,” she said. She further hopes that the young members of the tribes can see themselves reflected in her work and take solace in that.
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