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Native Americans’ relationship to photography is steeped in colonialism and its legacies. Yet today there are increasing numbers of professional Native photographers who, deeply aware of this history’s social toll, have embraced photography as a medium of empowerment. “Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field” is a series of photo essays created by Native photojournalists Russel Albert Daniels and Tailyr Irvine in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The exhibition opens at both of the museum’s locations (Washington, D.C., and New York City) March 24. The photo essays will be displayed consecutively at each venue.
Throughout the 20th century, a small number of Native photographers trained their eye on the people and places that were important to them. Today, that number is growing, and new generations of photographers bring their own ways of focusing on the lived experiences of Native peoples in the 21st century. By providing thought-provoking and moving insights into Native America through compelling and never-before-seen photography, the essays in “Developing Stories” provide nuanced perspectives that are largely invisible to non-Native society.
“Each photographer is committed to portraying the reality of contemporary Native life with honesty and integrity,” said Cécile Ganteaume, curator at the museum and the exhibition’s curator. “Through the modern Indigenous stories portrayed in their work, these photographers are breaking down stereotypes of Native peoples still prevalent in the mainstream media. These photo essays show the diversity and complexity of the modern-day lives of Indigenous peoples, including the issues they face living in the United States.”
“The Genízaro Pueblo of Abiquiú” by Russel Albert Daniels (Diné-descent and Ho-Chunk descent)
The Genízaro Pueblo of Abiquiú is a two-century-old community in northern New Mexico. Genízaros are descendants of American Indians (including Hopi, Comanche, Apache, Ute, Kiowa, Pawnee and Navajos) who were captured, baptized and given Christian names—and forced into slavery—by the Spanish, beginning in the 1500s. By Spanish law, Genízaros, many of whom came to have combined Native and Spanish heritage, eventually earned their freedom through servitude. By the 18th century, Genízaros were one-third of New Mexico’s population. Forming their own communities, they petitioned Spanish colonial authorities for land. Their land-grant settlements, while often deliberately positioned to create a buffer zone between Spanish settlements and American Indian tribes to the north, accorded Genízaros a certain degree of status.
Russel Albert Daniels’ essay examines how, through annual festivals and feasts and their relationship to the land, Genízaros—detribalized descendants of freed Native American slaves—have maintained their sense of history and identity to the present day.
Daniels is a documentary photographer based in Salt Lake City whose work concentrates on Native American resilience, identity and attempts of erasure. His projects about Two Spirit (culturally specific gender issues), the controversy over Bears Ears National Monument, missing and murdered Indigenous women and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, have helped bring forward critical conversations from Indian Country. Daniels’ work is also an act of self-discovery of his Diné, Ho-Chunk, Mormon settler and European heritage.
Daniels’ essay is on view in Washington and New York March 24–July 6. There will be a press preview in Washington Tuesday, March 24, at 10 a.m. and in New York Wednesday, March 25, at 2 p.m.
“Reservation Mathematics: Navigating Love in Native America” by Tailyr Irvine (Salish and Kootenai)
Tailyr Irvine’s photo essay examines the legacy of U.S. government regulations affecting Native Americans’ most personal decisions. Specifically, she focuses on the challenge blood quantum requirements pose for young Native American couples who want children and want them enrolled in their tribe.
In the early 20th century, the U.S. government established blood quantum requirements as a means for determining who could be considered “Indian.” These requirements set not only criteria for tribal enrollment, but also qualifications for such things as housing, health care and education.
According to Irvine, young Native Americans today are facing greater pressures in their dating life and choice of partner than previous generations. These pressures are the result of an increasing number of tribal members’ blood including more than one tribe or race, thus limiting their children’s chances of meeting the minimum blood quantum to be enrolled in their tribe. As Irvine points out, these dating pressures are unique to Native Americans. She visits reservations in Montana to document tribal members’ political outlooks on blood quantum requirements—and the impact of those requirements on young people contemplating marriage and children.
Irvine is a Salish and Kootenai photojournalist based in Montana and Florida. She was born and raised on the Flathead Reservation in Montana where she noticed a lack of meaningful media coverage in her community. Irvine’s photography focuses on telling stories from Indigenous communities that highlight the complex and diverse Native experience. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Montana.
Irvine’s essay is on view in Washington and New York July 14–Oct. 18. There will be a press preview in Washington Tuesday, July 14, at 10 a.m. and New York Wednesday, July 15, at 2 p.m.
Photographer Talk: “Genízaro Pueblo”
Daniels and Ganteaume will give a gallery talk:
- In Washington: Tuesday, March 24, at 3:30 p.m. in the Sealaska Gallery
- In New York: Thursday, March 26, at 6 p.m. in the Collector’s Office
Photographer Talk: “Reservation Mathematics: Navigating Love in Native America”
Irvine and Ganteaume will give a gallery talk:
- In Washington: Tuesday, July 14, at 3:30 p.m. in the Sealaska Gallery
- In New York: Thursday, July 16, at 6 p.m. in the Collector’s Office
About the Exhibition
“Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field” is curated by Cécile R. Ganteaume. Collaborators Tristan Ahtone (Kiowa), editor for tribal affairs, High Country News, and John Smock, director of photojournalism at the CUNY School of Journalism, provided editorial and technical expertise to the museum and photographers throughout the development of each photo essay, including the selection of photographers.
About the Museum
In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples. The museum strives toward equity and social justice for the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere through education, inspiration and empowerment.
The Washington, D.C., museum is located on the National Mall at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s George Gustav Heye Center is located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green in New York City. For additional information, including hours and directions, visit AmericanIndian.si.edu. Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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