Project 562: Awakening America to Native Reality

“Let’s shift our collective consciousness and remember that we belong to each other.” So says Matika Wilbur, a fellow Northwesterner with roots WAY deeper than mine.

Wilbur is Tulalip and Swinomish, a member of two of the tribes closest to where I live. For the past two years, she has been traveling around the West, on a mission to awaken mainstream America to the fact that Native Americans’ vibrant lives have little to do with the “leathers and feathers” stereotypes of a vanished culture.

Since she’s a Seattleite, I’m embarrassed to admit I first came across Matika Wilbur in a Radcliffe alumnae magazine. She’s won awards, done a TED talk, and her work has been featured in museums. I’m just late to the party. But now I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about Project 562.

The name reflects the number of tribes recognized by the U.S. government in 2012, when Wilbur embarked on her project. (It has since risen to 567, according to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.) The photographs reflect the settings, hopes, and realities of everyday Native Americans, people we non-Natives almost never get to meet or see in any kind of media.

And the effect of Project 562? I could describe it from my perspective: heartening, heart-rending, joyful, painful, hopeful. But I would rather hear about its effect on you. Please look at Wilbur’s video and tell me what you think.

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