I recently watched a TEDxTalk: Changing the way we see Native Americans, presented by Matika Wilbur. This talk was all about representation of Native Americans in the Mainstream Media. We all know that media and Hollywood are laced with stereotypes and generic representations of people, which is why this topic is so intriguing. As I watched Matika talk about her experience and her latest project it hit a chord with me that caused me to rethink what kind of representations I see every day. She did not address large controversies head on, but her message was clear. Native People need proper representation in terms that will allow them to be seen as regular people existing in a modern times.
Matika opened her Ted Talk with a video of a young native girl watching a bunch of mainstream representations or misrepresentations of Native People on a smartphone screen. This is very relevant, as society’s media is so readily accessible that misrepresentations can have detrimental consequences. Most mainstream media does not allow for modern representations to be made they focus on the headdresses, feathers and leather outfits shown throughout Hollywood and boasted as the latest trend.
Matika is focused on changing that representation. She is traveling all over the country to photograph modern day natives through Project 562. She is traveling from city to reservations, settlements, and everywhere in between to photograph Native Americans. She showed a few of her photos she recently took of influential Native American people. These included tribal presidents, activists, modern tribal members, royalty, teachers, lawyers, and many other people who accurately portray modern Native American society. This representation is not something normalized in Hollywood or in schools. Most people believe that the Native Americans died out a long time ago, because mainstream media does not have many modern interpretations. This is also brought on by public schools failing to adequately teach about Native Americans past the trail of tears or the Wounded Knee massacre or Hollywood’s continual depictions as stereotypical savages.
Matika has made it her mission to reclaim native identity by photographing and giving Native Americans representation in art and society through her portraits. Focusing on modern Native communities allows for the narrative to be changed though modern representation. Focusing on Native Americans in context to modern day jobs and positive representations dispels stereotypes cast on Native Americans.
Be the Change
Stereotypes were not directly addressed in her presentation, but the detriment of stereotypes is heavy on many minority groups especially Native Americans. Overall I found her talk and presentation enlightening and uplifting. She focused on creating a dialogue to talk about Native Americans today and that conversation is needed in society.
I encourage everyone, Native and non-native alike, to check out this video because it can be a way to bridge divides. Our society is so diverse, but fractured into division and this can be a way to bring society closer.