Matika Wilbur is the photographer behind Project 562. When she came to Utah State University on Nov. 15, it was the 37th university she had spoken at that month. The project, named for the 562 federally recognized U.S. tribes she initially planned to visit, is dedicated to changing the way we see Native America.
“There’s a desperate need to shift the collective consciousness to acknowledge our own first people,” she said.
Wilbur has been on the road since 2012, traveling to both federally recognized tribes and tribal communities to take portraits of indigenous people as they are today. Her work is part of an effort to shift the historically-based, one-dimensional way Native Americans are perceived, especially when it comes to education.
She asked a question: how can we address the social issues facing Native Americans, including disproportionate incarceration, domestic violence and sexual assault, when Native Americans are often perceived as one dimensional stereotypes situated in a historic past?
“I argue that we can’t, and that to me is why it’s so important that our education systems encourage young people to learn more not just about indigenous communities, but Native American, African American, Asian American, Latin American,” she said. “The studies of our people of color, the fabric of this country, deserve to have equal value, resources, and representation in education.”
So far, Wilbur has visited about 480 tribal communities. By the time her project is finished, Wilbur estimates she will have visited about 790.