Seeds of Culture
Every picture tells a story
What: "Seeds of Culture" presentation with Matika Wilbur
When: 7:00 pm Thu., Jun. 3
Where: Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St.
Cost: Free; register in advance
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
At the edge of Tulalip Bay, Darkfeather Ancheta and her sister and young nephew are dressed in traditional regalia, preparing for their tribe’s annual Canoe Journey. In Port Gamble S’klallam, Senior Miss S’klallam Days Princess Karleigh Gomez wears a woven crown and a sash that is barely visible under her long hair, her gaze steely and strong. And on the shores of Lummi Nation, Indigenous sports icon Temryss Lane cups her pregnant belly in her hands as she looks out at her home waters.
While the photographs are powerful on their own, the narratives these women and others share in Matika Wilbur’s exhibit, “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women,” are what makes the collection so compelling. Whether they’re ruminating on their connections to the ocean, to their ancestors, or of protecting their tribes’ songs, dances and resources—while still making room in their lives to take on leadership positions—the women appear to be closely connected to the past, yet looking toward the future.
The 28 large images on display through June 13 at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building are ones Wilbur culled from among thousands of portraits she’s taken since 2012, when she sold everything in her Seattle apartment and hit the road in pursuit of bringing history to life. “Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America”—which Wilbur highlighted in public programs hosted by the Whatcom County Library System in the fall of 2019—aimed to capture images and oral histories from all 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and over the course of seven years took Wilbur from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between.
As a member of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, Wilbur knows it’s important for the people she interviews and photographs to tell their stories in their own way. She honors traditional protocols, spends hours or days with each participant, and lets them choose their own portrait locations. She doesn’t want to tell their stories for them, but she does want every picture to tell a story. In “Seeds of Culture,” the photos of elders, activists, educators, culture-bearers and students do just that.
Wilbur will expound on their contributions and her own experiences documenting them at a free presentation taking place Thurs., June 3 at the Mount Baker Theatre. Storytelling, video, photography and song will add further context. Before attending, it’ll be worth taking the time to peruse “Seeds of Culture” for context.
“I believe the viewers will experience great insight and connection with these remarkable women, just as they have enlightened and inspired me,” Wilbur says. “Native women are traditionally the stewards of the vital relationship with land, and have remained principal advocates for Mother Earth, from fracking protests to upholding vital matrilineal values. By sharing the astonishing variety of the Indigenous presence and understanding, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes and renew and inspire our national legacy.”