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Stateside Podcast: Native rethinking for archival photos

When cameras were first made available to the public for personal use, many Native Americans were not able to access the then-advanced technology. Because of this, many early photos of Indigenous peoples were taken by white people who were able to own and operate the cameras. Often, these pictures were taken without the consent of the people being photographed and used without their knowledge.

To examine the long and complicated history of photography of Native Americans, an exhibit at the University of Michigan displays photos of Anishinaabe people in a unique way.

"We acknowledge that the collecting and purchasing of photographs of Native Americans, even if done in the context of a publicly accessible institutions, keeps the ownership of these objects in the hands of our institution, as opposed to living ancestors or specific tribes, and thus perpetuates some facets of settler colonialism," the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan says about its exhibit. "Photography can be a tool of colonialism, as well as a tool of sovereignty and self identification."

The exhibit, titled “No, not even for a picture”: Re-examining the Native Midwest and Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography, is on display now at the University of Michigan’s main library.

On today’s Stateside podcast, an exhibit curator discussed how she approached the project and the importance of recognizing the stories behind these photos.

GUEST:

  • Lindsey Willow Smith, exhibit curator and graduate, University of Michigan History and Museum Studies

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Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.

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Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.