The Big O

Project 562 was featured in Oprah Magazine!

We can’t tell you the joy and pride we felt to flip open the August issue of Oprah magazine see these beautiful photos looking back at us—and to think of the thousands and thousands of people that would be able to see our friends Jessica, Juanita, Josh, and more gracing the pages of the magazine gave us chills. We wanted to share with you the article that accompanied the photos, and provide more in-depth stories about each of the participants pictured in the magazine.

Here is a photo of the layout in the magazine (the full article with photos can also be viewed online):

The text reads:

Google “Asian Americans,” “Latin Americans” or just plain “Americans,” and you’ll see images of people you might meet on any given day: a barista, a neighbor, a coworker. But Google “Native Americans,” and you’ll see men in headdresses on horseback, typically from previous centuries. 

Such underrepresentation—plus alarmingly high substance abuse, suicide and school dropout rates among Native American youth—led Matika Wilbur in 2012, then a high school teacher, to sell most of her possessions and hit the road. The goal: to photograph members of all 566 federally recognized tribes. “I aim to humanize Native Americans,” says Wilbur, 31, who is of the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes in Washington. “We’re not a vanishing race that you can see only in outdated images. There are so many vibrant communities, and I want to depict them in a real way.” 

So far, Wilbur has visited roughly 300 tribes, snapping black-and-white photos that elegantly blend the ancestral and the modern. She’s captured subjects of all ages and backgrounds, from a Turtle Mountain Chippewa professor to a Sicangu Lakota recording artist to a group of Navajo “walkers” in New Mexico who protest fracking on foot. 

Wilbur hopes to complete her mission by 2016, after which her portraits will be published as a multivolume art book and featured in a touring exhibition. “Everywhere I’ve gone across the country, people have put me up in their homes and shared their stories. Will my efforts change the image of Native America overnight? No. But in the meantime, we’re breaking down stereotypes and renewing a legacy.”

Read more:

It’s a wonderful short introduction into the work of the project, and provides a small window into the endeavor that Project 562 has undertaken—but we couldn’t help but notice one thing missing: we don’t know who the incredible people in these photos are. Project 562 is not just about photographing tribal citizens, but also interviewing and documenting their stories, lives, and the challenges and triumphs of their communities—and sharing those voices along with the photos. That piece is what separates this work from other photographers doing documentary work, and what makes this project so successful at challenging stereotypes. With Project 562, we as Native people are no longer stuck in time, a two-dimensional photo on a wall, but are able to speak, be fully formed, and have a role in how we are represented.

So, in order to complete the narrative started by Oprah magazine, here are the names, tribal affiliations, and voices of the amazing Indigenous people sitting on the coffee tables of thousands of homes nationwide.

Jessica Metcalfe:

Dr. J is an incredible scholar, entrepreneur, fashionista, and friend. A citizen of Turtle Mountain Chippewa in North Dakota, she runs her wildly successful “Beyond Buckskin Boutique” out of her small town with a population of less than 50. With a doctorate in Art History from the University of Arizona, her research focused on Native fashion designers, and now that passion carries through to her entrepreneurial work in bringing Native fashion by Native designers to the masses. Connecting with her lands and home is very important to her, which is why she brought her business back to North Dakota. She knows that many of us as Native peoples have to leave home for many reasons, but she wants us to remember to come back and reconnect with the land and the medicine the earth can provide. She says, “Try to go home. If you have to go to Los Angeles and build your career there, or go to school there, please come back home during the summertimes, holidays and reconnect. Take off your shoes, and walk around on the earth, on that place. Our lands have medicine. Take off your shoes, take off your socks, and let your feet absorb that medicine of the earth. The earth wants to heal you, it wants to make you strong, it wants to support you. And so that’s something I always do, is kick off the shoes and walk around barefoot, so that I can absorb that. This is something that our medicine men used to do. They used to walk around barefoot to absorb that medicine so they could heal others. So always know that our land has that medicine to heal you. Because when you go out in the world it’s really hard, and the world will take your medicine and that energy from you. You need to replenish yourself. If you are suffering from things like depression or anxiety, go home and get that healing.”

Jennie and Sharlyce Parker:

A beloved grandma, auntie, and elder from Northern Cheyenne in Lame Deer, Montana, Jennie serves as a strong role model to her family and community. In her interview, she talked about the power of family and prayer to help her heal from a stroke, specifically her relationship with her granddaughter, Sharlyce, pictured alongside Jennie in the magazine. After three months in the hospital, followed by physical and speech therapy, she came home. She says of her healing, “It was through prayer. Prayer is what brought me back to where I am now. And Sharlyce. She said, ‘Grandma, I am going to move in with you, I’m going to take care of you.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’ll have to pray with me.’ and she said, ‘I will.’ And she really encouraged me. We’d walk a mile everyday. If it wasn’t for her and my strong belief, I think I would have given up a long time ago.”

Caleb and Jared Dunlap:

Affectionately known as the “twindians” to many of us, Caleb and Jared are Anishinaabe from Fondulac Band of Lake Superior Ojibiwe in Minnesota. They bring exuberance, dedication, and charisma to their chosen fields of healthcare and Community Organizing. I’ll never forget the day that we took this photo at the 2013 Quinalt Canoe Journey- they had just come from a three week “pull” with their Sacred Water Canoe Family and were camping at “protocol” (read more about canoe journey here). When we went to the sprawling waterfront to take this photo, I happened to be accompanied by a Seattle writer who was doing a story on Project 562- she became overwhelmed by the beauty of Quinalt’s shores and decided to take a skinny dip. I think you can see the laughter and excitement of that  moment in this photo…

Juanita Toledo:    

Calling Walwatoa (Jemez Pubelo), New Mexico home, Juanita is a community wellness advocate and works for her tribe’s community wellness program. She lives on her tribal lands, and feels grateful for the opportunity to serve her people. Born in Washington, DC while her mother was working for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Juanita moved back to her community when she was young. Her mother ”wanted my brother and I to know the language and the culture, and that’s a big part of why I continue to reside on the reservation, because growing up it’s become a big part of who I am and my identity as a human being. Even though I’m mixed, I’m half Indigenous and half african american, I tend to identify more with the indigenous side, only because I grew up on the reservation. Culture and family is why I’m here, and my mom is a big reason also, and that attachment to family and land is why I’m still here on the rez. I’m a rez kid at heart.” In addition to her wellness work, Juanita often represents in the Native fashion world, modeling for Native designers in shows and photo shoots throughout the southwest. Her energy and personality pour out from the stage, she always looks like she’s having the most fun of any of the models strutting down the runway. Last year she was chosen for a spread in Glamour Magazine, featuring strong Native women who are doing important and good work in their communities.

Josh Mori

Josh is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) Kalo farmer, activist, and educator from the beautiful island of Kauai. He works with youth to be proud of their Hawaiian culture and community, and believes that through education there can be healing. He says, “We have a lot of sickness. I believe the spiritual sickness and a lot of the physical and mental sickness we encounter in our communities, when we focus our energy, our mana, onto fixing that, we put our minds together and we get our energy moving in the same way, it’s through education. In education we empower our youth to be confident in who they are, and the confidence comes from knowledge. So in knowing who we are and where we come from, and being ok with everyone’s difference… is how we go about tackling this big racism and really elevate ourselves. Just be confident in our own skin.”

In these four Native people we see strength, education, and diversity, as well as love for community, culture, and family. To begin to see us as more than stereotypes is just the first step of the journey, to truly accomplish the goals of Project 562 we need to go deeper, and let our individual and community voices and stories resonate. We are so blown away and grateful for this opportunity to be featured in a Oprah Magazine, and hope that Jessica, Jennie, Josh, Juanita, Jared, and Caleb will begin to “Change the way we see Native America” for thousands of people throughout the world.