has traveled more than 250,000 miles to ensure stereotyped images
are replaced with accurate ones to change historys collective
and Fannie Mitchell. Tribal affiliation: Dine
Three years ago, Matika Wilbur sold almost everything she owned,
left behind her apartment in Seattle, and set out on the open road.
The former high school teacher had one goal: to photograph members
of each federally recognized Native American tribe in the United
Wilburs photographs are mostly black and white. She shoots
on a Canon EOS 7D digital, and a Mamiya film camera. When she finishes
Project 562 (named for the number of federally recognized tribes
at the time Wilbur began her work), she plans to compile the photographs
and share them with the public through various publications, exhibitions
and curricular material.
To date, the 31-year-old has driven more than 250,000 miles
and has nearly completed her journey. She will finish her tour at
the end of the month in the northeastern US. Wilbur has taken thousands
of pictures so far. She has met with a range of people that include
PhDs, lawyers, tribal elders, designers, grandmothers and artists.
But sometimes she worries it isnt enough.
Bibiana and Eckos Ancheta from the Tulalip Tribe
A search for Native Americans on the internet yields almost
nothing but reductionist, 18th-century representations of a feathered
and leathered people, Wilbur says. She hopes the pictures
shes taking can someday replace the stereotyped, dated ones
found in internet searches, and the ones we hold on to in our collective
Im ultimately doing this because our perception
matters, she says. Our perception fuels racism. It fuels
segregation. Our perception determines the way we treat each other.
Yellowtail, tribal affiliation: Crow Nation
Wilburs journey to this work has been long and winding.
She calls it a journey of self-actualization. After
earning a degree in photography from the Brooks Institute, Wilbur
moved to Los Angeles, to become a fashion photographer, but says
she soon grew disenchanted with the excess and frivolity of the
She eventually traveled to South America, where she began photographing
indigenous people. One night, in the mountains below Machu Pichu,
she dreamt of her late grandmother. Her grandmother told her it
was time to return home; to bring the lens to her own people. Several
years and two Kickstarter fundraisers later, Project 562 was born.
Wilbur has traveled more than 250,000 miles to capture the
the depth of Native Americans
These days, Wilbur is on the east coast, traveling through Haudonesonee
land. On the road, she is often alone. She admits to being exhausted.
Wilbur has interns but says they dont last very long. After
two or three weeks, they start saying, Hey, I really need
to go home, she says. Still, Wilbur persists, sleeping
where she can, on couches, and in her big girl, (her
nickname for her RV). Sometimes, shell sleep on the floor
of a strangers home. She has spent many nights on reservations
in the most remote parts of the country.
But the physical exhaustion is often less difficult to bear
than the emotional weight of the stories she has heard. Wilbur speaks
with passion and distress about the young Native Americans who are
growing up on the reservation today. What happens when a people
have lost their sense of connection to the land, to their spirit,
and to the things that make them whole? she says. They
look around, and wonder about the future. And they turn to things
that fill those holes inside of them. Things like drugs and
Bill James, Tribal Affiliation: Lummi Nation
Wilbur has personal experience with addiction and has dealt
with substance abuse in her own family. She says she has recently
celebrated 14 years on the red road, a Native American
term that refers to complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol in
an effort to find cultural and spiritual wellness. She recalls too,
her former students battles with substance abuse.
Over the years, Ive lost several students to drug
addiction and suicide, she recalls. Some of our students
see this and say: is this what it must mean to be an Indian?
Today, Native Americans comprise a little under 2% of the US
population or, according to the latest Census data, about 5.2 million
people. And three out of four of our women today have experienced
domestic violence or sexual assault, Wilbur adds.
Tso Tribal Affiliation: Navajo Nation
Despite this, Wilbur is committed to excavating stories of hope,
not despair from Indian Country. I want to be able to go home,
and share stories of resiliency from across the Nation. I want our
children to know about all of the strong advocates- the weavers,
language holders, canoe builders, song keepers, medicine people,
tribal leaders, elders, and so many more who are dedicated to protecting
our ancestral life-ways so that they can grow up strong citizens
of their Tribal Nation she says.
And so, her gaze is fixed firmly on the horizon, on tomorrow,
on moving beyond the past, in every sense. Our goal as people
has always been to be of one mind, one heart, and one spirit,
For more information on Wilburs traveling exhibit, visit
Project 562 or browse through
her Instagram (@matikawilbur)