Sask. photographer's award-winning powwow photograph shows 'symbol of hope'

Melanie Gray won the CMHR's People's Choice Award for her photo The Next Generation.
Saskatchewan photographer Melanie Gray's photo The Next Generation has won a people's choice award from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Melanie Gray/Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

A Saskatchewan photographer has won an award from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for a photo of a powwow at her home community, which she says shows the resilience of Indigenous people and hope for the future.

Melanie Gray, a hobby photographer from Humboldt, Sask., won the People's Choice Award as part of a photo exhibition at the Winnipeg national museum.

Her photo The Next Generation shows young girls powwow dancing on the Rama First Nation in Ontario, Gray's home community. It was one of 70 photos chosen out of almost 1,000 photographs from across the country to be part of the museum's Points of View exhibition, one of four presented by the CMHR to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

"One of my favourite things about photography is the ability to tell a story without uttering a single word," Gray said in a news release from the museum.

Melanie Gray, seen here with her photo at the CMHR, says it shows 'the resilience of Indigenous Peoples and the survival of cultures threatened with eradication from colonization, residential schools and child welfare policies.' (Submitted by Melanie Grey )

Marking Canada 150

For Gray, an Ojibway woman, the photo is powerful because it highlights Indigenous resilience and resurgence.  

"We weren't allowed to do this [kind of celebration] before. Potlatch was banned, powwow was banned, our culture and language was taken. So this dance is both a symbol of hope and a recognition of what has occurred," Gray said. 

Canada 150 was not a cause for celebration for everyone. Gray, for one, saw it as an opportunity to create awareness. 

Gray, seen on the right at a 2016 powwow in her home community of Rama First Nation, says part of her prize money will go to the Friendship Inn in Saskatoon. (Submitted by Melanie Gray)
"It's important to acknowledge that there are people who have been here a lot longer than 150 years," she said in the release from the museum.

"Reconciliation is crucial as it's about acknowledgement, relationship-building and working together to move forward with respect, and with that comes healing. We all benefit from that."

Gray plans to donate a portion of her $2,000 award to Saskatoon's Friendship Inn, a community centre that provides meals and services to homeless and vulnerable people. 

Over 24,000 votes came in from across the country for the People's Choice Award, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights said, in person and online. Voting took place between June 22, 2017 and Jan. 7, 2018.  

The selections for the exhibition were made by a multi-disciplinary jury. 

The exhibition runs at the CMHR until Feb. 4, and the photos can also be viewed online at the CMHR's website.