Native Americans are recasting views of indigenous life

By countering the racist fixations that have plagued stories of Native American culture, they hope to reverse the “invisibility” that many feel.

Photograph by JOSUÉ RIVAS

Tribal affiliation: Mexica and Otomi Protesters fighting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline leave the Oceti Sakowin camp near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation after an order from law enforcement in February 2017. Photographer Josué Rivas founded the Standing Strong Project, which explores indigenous identity, sovereignty, and resilience. Activism over the pipeline helped inspire many American Indian political candidates to run for public office in 2018.

Native American photographers are pushing back against portrayals of their culture by non-natives, capturing scenes that reflect alternative views of indigenous life.

Madeline Sayet grew up on native land in southern Connecticut, where Mohegans have lived for thousands of years.

The daughter of a tribal historian and a defense lawyer, she heard tales of Chahnameed, a Mohegan trickster character. When she turned seven, her grandfather gave her Shakespeare’s complete works for her birthday. “Almost as early as I had traditional native stories, I also had Shakespeare,” Sayet says, recalling her earliest encounters with the bard.

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