Documenting Indigenous Americans / Hyperallergic

Preston Arroweed, Quechan/Kumni tribal member

Preston Arroweed, Quechan/Kumni tribal member

LOS ANGELES — Between the years 1907 and 1930, Edward Sheriff Curtis published The North American Indian, a record of traditional Indian cultures in the United States and Canada. Curtis’ book, a landmark historical document with a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt, has been digitized and his photographs are available online to all those who seek them.

But isn’t it time for an update? Today, photographer Matika Wilbur is documenting all 562 federally recognized tribes of America from the perspective of someone who is a Native herself — not an old white dude. When I got in touch with her by phone, she was just pulling into Tunica-Biloxi in Louisiana, where she was shooting for a few days. Just the other week, she was in Arizona; next month, she’ll be in New Mexico.

Wilbur’s family’s land is in Washington state, on theSwinomish Reservation one hour outside of Seattle. After working and traveling for many years, including a stint in countries across South America and then to Spain, Wilbur realized that she had not been home for a while. Upon her return, Wilbur, a member of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes, began photographing the elders of her community. From there the project evolved as most do — through conversation with friends. They talked about how no one has photographed all the tribes in America for nearly 100 years.

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