The show “See Through Our Eyes: Native Perspective” at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario documents the lives of Native people across North America.

Even though photography was once a non-traditional medium for Natives, in this show they are behind and in front of the camera.

“This is what we want people to know about us,” says Yvonne Maracle of the Native Indian Photographers’ Association. “We have not disappeared.”

The friendly atmosphere of the work reveals that the photographers are not afraid to show the way they live. The photographs are a story of courage.

Yvonne points out that the government tried to break up Native people’s families—they were put through a system and many individuals came out not knowing who they are as Natives. Many were sent to residential schools and assimilated into the dominant society, which tried to take away their Native identity.

The photographs show both a strong sense of Native identity and the loss of it.

Harry Tonemah, a Native photo journalist from Texas, photographs a Native police officer. The photo reflects that the officer was taught his family came first and that he could always rely on them.

With this positive view, a non-stereotypical view of the Native person prevails in his photograph. The police officer is Christian and in the Special Forces. A wholesome view of this man shows him in action. Harry says he has a son who wants to be like him.

In contrast, some of the photographers capture Native people in the middle of traditional activities. The Zuni stonemasons by Larry Gus, the lacrosse stick-makers by Charles Agel, the Hoop Dancer by Rosalie Favell are all captured unposed. These photographs show that they are alive, not frozen in time.

The photographers are all members of the Native Indian Photographers’ Association, which put together this show. Proceeds will go toward a publication of these photographs.

NIPA’s purpose is to set up a First Nations photographic network and encourage photography as a medium of fine art. It also aims to promote a positive image of First Nations people through photography. Membership is available to Native and non-Native people.

by Susan Pearson

You can contact NIPA in Hamilton at (905) 529-7477.