There are more than 500 Native American tribes recognized by the US government, and photographer Matika Wilbur has made it her mission to photograph them all. She calls it Project 562, after the exact number of tribes that were federally recognized when she began the project (there are now 566). A Native American herself, Matika uses the power of photography to counterbalance the misrepresentations of Native American culture in mass media and the national consciousness. She hopes that her photography will help humanize and give voice to a tragically marginalized community, to tell their stories and demonstrate the diversity and vitality of Native Americans. As she says at the beginning of her TED Talk (which is worth watching in its entirety),
Between 1990 and 2000 there were 5,868 blockbuster-released films. Twelve included American Indians. All of them showed Indians as spiritual and in tune with nature, ten of them as impoverished and/or beaten down by society, ten as as continually in conflict with whites. However, the image of the professional photographer, the musician, the teacher, the doctor — they were largely absent.
What’s interesting is how this image manifests itself into our psyche. You see, when this image is shown to a young Native person, they report feeling lower self esteem and depressed about what they are able to become or likely to become… How can we be seen as modern successful people if we’re continually seen as the leathered and feathered vanishing race?
When she finishes collecting stories and images from every tribe, Matika plans on creating a traveling photo exhibit, videos, and a book to help educate the public and further the complex conversation of Native American representation. Until then, you can keep up to date with her travels and her photographs at the Project 562 blog.