With great pride, my father shared our family history of how my great-grandfather fought Indians in California and saved the life of a U.S. Army General during the Modoc Indian War of 1872. I shared this story with great familial pride as well until 2005, the year I became aware of Native American history through my relationships with Salish, Nez Perce and Blackfeet people in Montana and Native Americans of various tribes back home in California. It was then that my mindset changed as I viewed the realities of modern American Indian life through the lens of the Native people and not my European American version of their histories.
My eyes opened as I listened to my Native American friends share stories of loss and resilience in the face of historic and modern racism. We learn what we are taught, so like many European-descended Americans of my generation I was shocked when I realized there is a hidden history in the life experiences of Native Americans in the United States. Discrimination is still a reality, but people are the conduits of change. In Montana, Idaho and South Dakota I began to document various aspects of Native American life and culture.
With the marriage of my photographic body of work and poet Victor Charlo's well-crafted words we began a passionate journey to build bridges of understanding between European Americans and Native Americans. I have witnessed the trauma that racism and intergenerational wounds have inflicted upon Native youth. It is my intention to give voice and vision to the everyday experiences that are a vital part of Native American life, including history through Native eyes.
The Still Here Book: A Good Start
When I collaborated with friend and Salish Indian poet, Victor Charlo, on the Still Here: Not Living in Tipis photo-poetry book in 2013, people said it was ground-breaking. U.S. Congressman George Miller recognized our social change collaboration, aimed at replacing stereotypes with more accurate perceptions of American Indians.
Native media, including Indian Country Today, liked that Still Here showed a positive side of American Indian life instead of poverty porn. Mainstream media applauded the combination of my Native celebrations photographs with Victor’s reservation life poems. Art and poetry lovers and those wanting to learn about a seldom seen aspect of American life bought books and I received invitations to speak at schools and other community groups.
Then and Now
Then a Washoe Indian elder asked me if I would do a book for children. That got me thinking. The next thing I knew, I’d met Cass Fey, who for years was the education director at the University of Arizona, Tucson’s Center for Creative Photography. She’s written lots of teacher’s resources for famous photographers in the Center’s collections and exhibitions. After seeing a copy of the Still Here book, she wanted to write this Everyday Native educational resource, believing as passionately as I do that it will help heal racism through understanding. The result is a teacher’s resource for grades 4 through 12 that enhances many subject areas including Language Arts, U.S. History, Native American History, Social Studies, Photography, Poetry and Art.
Native educators have given us, as non-Natives, suggestions that ensure these materials are culturally sensitive and good for all communities. The contents also has been reviewed by dedicated, enthusiastic teachers in Montana, South Dakota, Idaho and in my home state of California to make sure it's useful and relevant.
Now I have a vision of a new community for us all, starting with children and youth. It’s a place where everyone is valued for the unique voice they have, a place where they’re appreciated for the beautiful cultures that make them who they are.
Your leadership in using this educational resource helps your students become members of the kind of new community we want for all our children. Everyday Native is one important step in becoming true neighbors. As we share our own stories, non-Native and Native, we learn the truths from our shared local and national histories. We acknowledge the difficulties of our shared past. Then we move forward together.