Born and raised on the Cheyenne River Reservation, a sovereign Lakota nation in South Dakota, Dawnee LeBeau is Oóhenuŋpa Itázipčo (two kettle and without bows) of the Tetonwan Oyate (people of the plains). After losing her father, she found comfort in doing things she did with him, like identifying plants. LeBeau was doing that with family when she made this image of her niece.

Originally published on June 6, 2021 4:39 pm

The year 2020 marked the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival from England to Plymouth Rock, Mass., a moment encapsulated with the general notion that the following year, pilgrims broke bread with the Wampanoag Tribe in an act of friendship.

For generations that story — from the white settlers’ perspective — has been taught to children in schools.

“The Mayflower and its aftermath has become the first and most culturally iconic story told to many young Americans about the country’s founding and initial relationships with Native people,” says photographer Sarah Stacke.

“But the stories they’re told of a golden age of friendship, new beginnings, and untouched wilderness, is a myth.”

Delvin Garcia Standing in Remains of the Santa Rosa de Lima Church. Sections of church walls are all that remain of the 18th-century Spanish colonial settlement Santa Rosa de Lima. Repeated attacks from Ute and Comanche peoples forced the colonists to abandon the village. In 1754, through a land grant, the Spanish gave Genízaro and Hopi families 16,000 acres of land that was one mile away. Here, the Santo Tomás de Abiquiú settlement was established. During the ensuing years, as Spain, Mexico, and then the United States claimed parts of the region, the Genízaro people of Abiquiú lost some of their land. Delvin Garcia, former president of the Abiquiú land grant board, has worked with fellow community members to reclaim these lands. As Garcia states, “La Merced del Pueblo Abiquiú (the Town of Abiquiú Land Grant) is recognized and protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and is historically unique.”
Combat veteran Nathan Maybee (Seneca) faces his trauma and PTSD through photography. Above, Maybee’s silhouette is layered with a video still he made in Iraq. “Post-combat life has many struggles,” says Maybee, and this image represents that. “You miss it, you hate it, you’re thankful for the experience, you’re angry at the losses.”

Correcting those myths and looking at the evolution of Native American identity over the last 400 years is the mission of The 400 Years Project, a pictorial collection of Native American life. It includes original photo essays, text essays and a digital library of Native photographers from the mid-1800s to the present.

Project founders Stacke, Sheena Brings Plenty and Brian Adams want to address colonization while centering the Native voice.

The work of Kali Spitzer (Kaska Dena & Jewish) embraces the stories of BIPOC, queer and trans people, creating representations that are self-determined. This traditional tintype photo of Larissa Lorraine Grieves (Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree, Blackfoot from the Pikuni Nation, Metis, Swedish, Irish and Scottish) was made in 2021.
Photographer Ryan RedCorn (Osage), was born in Tahlequah, Okla. He recently created the series Osage Cooks, which includes portraits of esteemed cook January Phetsacksith and Dale Jesse (Seminole), who works fire. Being an Osage cook is an honored position and is often passed down in families for many generations.

The site’s library of Native American photographers currently stands at more than 60, but Brings Plenty is hoping to expand. The goal is for Native photographers to tell their stories and showcase their work. “The library is 100% Native and all we ask is that they are dedicated to the craft of photography,” Brings Plenty says.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its tragic effects on Native American tribes have brought on parallels to the plight Native Americans have faced since the days of the Mayflower. Death rates for Native American and Alaska Native people are more than double that of white people. Stacke says it has “highlighted how fiercely the keepers of knowledge need to be protected and why the commitment to preserving and recording stories is as urgent as ever.”

Environmental portrait of Eastern Cherokee woodcarver, Monk Walkingstick adding the finishing details onto the Butternut wood carving. Birdtown, North Carolina. October 30, 2020.
Eli Farinango is an award-winning Kichwa artist and photographer who was born in Quito, Ecuador, and raised in Ottawa, Canada. In the photo above, Virginia Anrango holds tostado she made for her daughters. “The tostado is a traditional food from Ecuador. With its simple preparation, its kernels transmit the memory of our ancestry no matter where we are,” says Farinango.

Sheyahshe Littledave is a regionally known author/writer and enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She is based on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina.

Follow the 400 Years Project on Instagram @400yearsproject

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