Proyecto 562 Changing the Way We See Native America
by angela gonzalez
Cover: Dr. Henrietta Mann, Cheyenne por Matika Wilber.
Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) is a well-known Native American photographer. She is the founder and creator of Project 562 – an organization with the mission to change the way we see Native America by dispelling stereotypes is an uplifting, accurate and inspiration narrative created by Natives for Native youth. In her effort toward this mission, she traveled across the United States including Alaska to photograph Native American and Alaska Native people. She released “Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America” in April, and it was on the New York Times best seller list in May.
Matika’s photographs depict Natives as living and breathing and a contemporary people. She also writes essays about each person she interviewed and goes beyond the surface and one-dimensional level. You can get a glimpse of Marilyn Balluta (Den’aina Athabascan) growing up in Nondalton and Anchorage. She shares about her Dena’ina language, culture, and values. In her interview, she says, “We still incorporate our values into our everyday life. We still incorporate our traditions. We still cook and eat our food.”
If stereotypes were to be believed, you may think Native Americans were extinct, they are not healthy or that the languages and cultures died off. Matika sheds light and shares deeply moving stories on hundreds of tribes. It really is changing the way Native Americans are perceived. Project 562 is so much more than a book as Matika also documented people’s stories on videos, blog posts and social media posts. It was exciting to watch the journey of people who were featured over the years.
There’s documentation of Native Americans and Alaska Natives being proud of who they are and representing their people and cultures. It gives them a voice and a safe space to express who they are. Young people can see themselves represented in the media and see that there’s people like them. They can see positive role models.
Matika also featured people who are of mixed races, and who have light and dark skin. She shares stories of those who survived childhood trauma and boarding school, and how they are reconnecting to cultures and languages. She created a space where we could be proud of who we are and a place where we are celebrated. She made sure to incorporate people’s Native American or Alaska Native names.
Matika spent time building trusting relationships, and told stories in a loving, honest, and enlightening way. At the beginning of her journey, Matika said, “My feet are on the ground. The war pony is moving. I’ve taken in the stories of those who trusted me with their truths. I’ve felt the struggle, and I’ve been lifted by our human desire to endure.”
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