Artist's Statement

Women Under a Big Sky, Crow Reservation, Montana, 2010 by Sue Reynolds

Women Under a Big Sky, Crow Reservation, Montana, 2010 by Sue Reynolds

 

Under the arc of a great sky, across northern plains and mountains and here in California, I have been on a journey to create relationships with Native American people and reflect on our common humanity. The hard realities of Native life – the fierce fight to save youth and protect elders, to reclaim health and lost ways, to overcome poverty and prejudice – coexist with prayers and pride that dance colors into the night. Beautiful ceremonies live in their own vivid reality, whirling within the drum's deep heartbeat. Every step is holy. Every song is a benediction.

Everyday Native is about survival and resurrection in the face of long odds.  It is a journey to hidden, little understood peoples.  It is holding a prayer in one's hands, glimpsing the truth beneath our feet, hearing ancient songs.  It reveals how present and past are fused in many Native American lives.  My photographs join Salish Indian poet Victor Charlo's words to honor tribal ways of life that endure, and to acknowledge that walking in two worlds is hard. They go straight to the heart. They show us that how well we love is what matters most.

Courage is required to forge a strong identity within Native America. Historical trauma lives on. Many pay the price, yet many persevere. Rooted in the land, honoring all the generations, putting family at the center of the circle, and knowing Spirit lives everywhere help keep Indian identity alive.  Gathering for celebrations and ceremonies renews traditions and reminds Native communities that "We're still here."

This has been my journey, too, echoing humanity's search for wholeness. At first, I came to heal grief from many losses.  I was greeted with gentle kindness, and those early days on the powwow trail moved me, helping me redeem my own loss of identity. I was offered a new life, and I said "Yes."

I've also come to create a fragile thread of dialogue. I've longed to overcome my pioneer family and racial history to help heal past injustices. Stepping into many gatherings, being invited into many homes, I wonder: Will I be forgiven? Can I forgive myself? Acknowledging my ancestors’ actions towards Native people brings forgiveness, and a heavy weight lifts from me.

Along with warm welcomes, I've also experienced Native anger and non-Native racism that stops me cold.  Doubt arises.  Yet a fire inside keeps me moving forward.  This is what I’m supposed to be doing.  It’s the work we all need to be doing:  building bridges of understanding across what divides us.

I’ve seen firsthand the wounds that discrimination, including bullying, can inflict on a child’s sense of self-worth and I’ve witnessed the healing that can come from an accepting community, a close family and time in nature and with animals.  Music, poetry and hearing traditions passed on by elders who care for a child are important, too.  My hope is that every classroom can become a kind community where all students feel accepted, included and respected so they can fully meet their unique potential.

Beyond the genocide and multiple losses of land, language and culture lies a good road. By making the invisible visible, by showing the beauty of the everyday, of sacred lands and seldom seen dances, by portraying the faces of Native youth, I offer a blessing to us all.  

Let's remember we are all related. Let's remember this and bring strength to each other.

Sue Reynolds  

Contact Sue at reynolds@everydaynative.com