Committing to going through my archive and organizing my embarrassing jumble of hard drives this year (if i make a resolution on instagram y’all will hold me accountable, right?). starting a decade ago, with some old film from a trip to guatemala, and an afternoon spent with doña caterina while she roasted coffee beans in san juan cotzal, guatemala. doña caterina is part of the ixil community, in a region that was heavily targeted during the guatemalan civil war that ran from 1960-1996. the guatemalan army destroyed 440 mayan villages in a two year window, and were later found to have killed nearly 200,000 guatemalans, 83 percent of whom were mayan. to this day, many of the villages that remain are heavily female, with women managing labor, food production, families, and community organizing.
This is gregg deal (@greggdeal ), a pyramid lake paiute performance artist, activist, and painter whose work often interrogates misconceptions of native identity, asking his audience instead to confront their misunderstandings and reconsider stereotypes. the handprint on his face is from a performance piece “the last american indian on earth” — visit his website to see more. shot on assignment for @natgeo and out now in the december issue of the magazine.
This is peter toth, a hungarian-born sculptor based in florida. he’s dedicated most of his life to carving these larger-than-life statues of native americans out of tree trunks — a series he calls the whispering giants. his original goal was to place one in every state, but he’s completed 74 so far and, at the age of 70, has no plans to stop. when i was mapping out my plan for the story that just published in the december issue of @natgeo, i knew i wanted to include peter for personal reasons: he carved a statue that stood prominently at the center of a small delaware beach town where i spent many summers as a child. it somewhat resembles a totem pole, and i remember assuming as a kid that it must have been a relic from a coastal native tribe. it wasn’t until decades later that i learned totem poles come from communities in the pacific northwest. that was my goal for this project: to look at how non-native creators have employed, benefitted, and profited from native symbols and culture, and the misinformation they sow along the way. sometimes it seems relatively harmless, like my own childhood misunderstanding, but it is not disconnected from the casual racism that underpins sports team names like the redskins, or any other number of examples of the ways in which we continue to disenfranchise and silence indigenous people on this continent.
Back on the road working on @signsofyouridentity in crow, salish & kootenai, and blackfoot territory for the month. this project always opens up a series of important questions — whose story is this to tell? do i have the right to tell native stories as a non-native journalist? is it irresponsible to default to trauma-centered narratives in indian country? — and i’m grateful for friends who are patient with me + keep me in line, like crow ethnographer/archaeologist/preservationist aaron brien (@aaronbbrien ) and his @indigenousarchaeology class at salish kootenai college on the flathead reservation. it’s fun to think about translating some of the conversations that journalists are having right now to another field like archaeology: who is in charge of crafting narratives in other disciplines? what is lost in archaeology, or food, or music, or law, when we teach and share and learn through a singular perspective?