Iconic Indigenous imagery: How photos shape movements and connect us to history
Single iconic images can represent an entire movement. Whether it's a celebration of the end of a war, to remember resistance, or even a photograph of a famous beauty queen over a subway vent, a picture can often be worth more than 1,000 words.
Capturing these moments used to be left to professional photographers and what we saw was filtered through news organizations. Now, technology has made it easier to capture these images and share them with the world.
This week, take a look at iconic Indigenous images from the past, the present and meet those who want to change our image for the future.
Amanda Polchies, a Lakota Sioux and Mi'kmaq woman, was the subject of a powerful photo taken by Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin at a 2013 anti-fracking protest in New Brunswick. She's pictured on her knees, holding up an eagle feather with a wall of police in front of her. She recounts that day, where protesters were pepper sprayed and police cars were burned, and talks about why she would do it again in a heartbeat.
In sharing photos of Indigenous people from the 1920s to the 1970s doing everyday things, Paul Seesequasis didn't think it would reach beyond his own friends and family. But the Willow Cree writer, cultural activist and journalist found his social media experiment turned into much more than that, with more than 13,000 Twitter followers wanting to see old photos of Indigenous life (as well as of Joni Mitchell and Buffy Sainte-Marie).
As someone who studies Indigenous women in photographs, Sherry Farrell Racette felt conflicted. On one hand, early photographs of Indigenous women were weaponized and used as propaganda. But on the other, it's some of the earliest documentation of life for Indigenous people in the 1850s. The Algonquin, Métis and Irish professor talks about how she approaches the conflict in her class, "Indigenous Women and the Camera" that she teaches at the University of Regina.
Tailyr Irvine noticed Indigenous people are often portrayed in the media wearing regalia or at powwows — even if it's not relevant to the story. To combat that, the journalism student from the Flathead Reservation in Ronan, Mont. decided to try to change that narrative. She now works for the Tampa Bay Times as a photojournalist and is part of Natives Photograph, a group that aims to elevate the work of Indigenous photographers.
Recent photos from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation have flooded social media. But back when social media didn't exist, one photograph shaped public perception of the 1990 Oka Crisis. You'll hear from Shaney Komulainen, the photographer who took that photo, and UBC Sociology professor Rima Wilkes who says the image doesn't tell the whole story.
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