Adventures in the New World
What does it mean to be a contemporary First Nations person living in a city, or for that matter, any place outside of reserve land? Throughout the period of time that I have worked on this project, this question kept coming to mind. The only time that I had contact with living First Nations people was when I visited my family at Six Nations. Otherwise my journey was with the past, standing on creek banks, looking for historical markers, visiting recreations of ancient village sites, or just watching all the new development and thinking about what was.
To answer my question, I feel that to be a First Nations person requires new exploration of the landscape. This is to say that my ancestors knew the land very well before the arrival of Europeans and actually did very well in making the necessary adaptations to the European-based lifestyle. The Reverend Peter Jones is an example of a First Nations leader who met the challenge to work out a new way of life but was eventually overwhelmed by the sheer number of newcomers to the Credit River settlement.
But leaving the reserve for the city was one adaptation that was not fostered with foresight by our people. My grandparents left the Six Nations Reserve during the 1940's to find work in the city of Buffalo, New York. Although they were successful in finding employment, their children, my parent's generation, lost a vital link to their heritage while trying to accommodate their urbanization.
Families became fractured, lost to an urban melting pot, traditional values and the succession of knowledge vanished from the everyday. People back on the reserves saw the changes in their relatives living in cities. Assimilation was a negative force and one not dealt with or challenged by our thinkers and image makers.
Europeans referred to this country as the new world when they arrived, but today and from a First Nations perspective, this now is our new world. We have not explored it from a position of power nor have we exploited it for our survival. When I started out as a photographer I found a great abyss: the gatekeepers had defined a "real" Indian as one of the past. What I did not see was how we defined our own Indian-ness.
My work is defined by challenging the abyss and say that "real" Indians are still here and this is what they see and look like. Photography provides me with a means to make my Iroquoian self, lost in the urban world, visible.