WHATCOM COUNTY, WASHINGTON — In partnership with the Nooksack Tribe and Northwest Indian College, the Whatcom County Library System is honored to host one of the nation’s leading photographers, Matika Wilbur, from the Swinomish and Tulalip peoples. Wilbur will be in Whatcom County October 3–5, 2019, for four free community presentations of her ground-breaking work, Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America. The project shares powerful and provoking images and stories that Wilbur has collected over the last seven years from hundreds of tribal nations, ranging from the Inupiaq in Alaska, O’odham in Arizona, and Osage in Oklahoma, to Seminole in Florida, Wampanoag on Cape Cod, and local tribes Lummi and Nooksack. The result is an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories portraying the dynamic, sprawling variety of contemporary Native American life and personhood.
In 2012, Wilbur sold everything in her Seattle apartment and launched Project 562, a Kickstarter-funded pursuit to visit, engage, and photograph over 500 Native American Nations in the United States. (The genesis of the project’s name came from the number of then federally recognized tribes. It has since risen to 573, although Project 562 also represents state-recognized tribes and urban Indian communities.)
“By unveiling the true essence of contemporary Indian issues and sharing the beauty of Native cultures and the magnitude of lasting traditions, we can renew the perspective of Indian identity, exposing the tenacity and vitality of Native communities,” Wilbur says. “We can create positive indigenous role models to do justice to the richness and diversity and lived experiences of Indian Country.”
Project 562 is one of the only contemporary photographic projects of this magnitude to be completed exclusively by a Native photographer and the only large-scale effort to capture the vibrancy of current Native culture through recorded interviews and captivating portraiture. A database such as the one being compiled through Project 562 has never been achieved. Project 562 will culminate as a coffee table book, series of exhibitions, and online resources.
Deming Library manager Katrina Carabba first heard about Project 562 while listening to an interview with Wilbur on National Public Radio two years ago. “I keep my ears and eyes open for programs to share at the Deming Library that are thought-provoking and meaningful,” Carabba says. “Project 562 spoke to the desire to host a presentation about the contemporary Native American experience.”
The Friends of the Deming Library (FODL), a volunteer group that helps the library raise funds for programs, building repairs, and other needs, helped Carabba develop community partnerships and secure funding to bring Project 562 to Whatcom County. FODL board member Leaf Schumann was successful in writing a grant to the Norcliffe Foundation. He says, “This program is important because it will help the library build relationships with our immediate neighbors and our area’s original inhabitants, the Nooksack Tribe. Programs like this support our organizational goals to focus our efforts on inclusion and the richness of diversity.”
Carabba and Schumann worked closely with Nooksack Tribe Academic Enrichment Manager Charise Wenzl, and Keith Lindsey, the Nooksack Tribe’s youth academic intervention specialist, on this event. With support from the Nooksack Tribe Education Director Donia Edwards, Lindsey was able to secure the Mí sq’ eq’ ó Community Building for one of Wilbur’s presentations. Lindsey will lead his students in a photography project inspired by Wilbur’s work. An exhibit of the students’ work, Nooksack Faces and Places, will be on display at the Deming Library from October 30 through November 30, 2019.
Wilbur has previously taught photography at Northwest Indian College (NWIC) and encouraged the Deming Library to connect with NWIC as an additional partner. This builds on an existing relationship—WCLS collaborates with NWIC, providing students access to the library’s collection with a check-out and drop-off location on campus—while bringing the Project 562 presentation to another location in the county.
Local presentations of Project 562 are funded by the Friends of the Deming Library, Friends of the Ferndale Library, the Nooksack Tribe, Northwest Indian College, Norcliffe Foundation, WECU Community Builder Grant, Sea Wolf Bakers, and Lummi Nation Community Contribution Grant.
There are four free community presentations offered in different venues over three days:
- Northwest Indian College, Building 7A, 2522 Kwina Road, Bellingham, on Thursday, October 3, 1:00–2:30 PM
- Ferndale Library, 2125 Main St., Ferndale, on Thursday, October 3, 6:30–8:00 PM
- Mí sq’ eq’ ó Community Building, Nooksack Indian Tribe, 2515 Sulwhanon Drive, Everson, on Friday, October 4, 6:30–8:30 PM
- Deming Library, 5044 Mt. Baker Hwy., Deming, on Saturday, October 5, 6:30–8:00 PM
Wilbur’s work brings attention to the lack of Native representation in our society. She continues to explore ways to make incremental changes through her art. This year, she started All My Relations, the “2019 Best New Feminist Podcast” (AV Club) with Brown University professor, writer and activist Dr. Adrienne Keene of the Cherokee Nation. They host conversations about being Native that are exacting, entertaining and accessible. Each episode brings together Native artists, organizers, and scholars to talk about issues such as fashion, queer identity, appropriations, and languages.