As a kid growing up on a Swinomish reservation in Washington state, Matika Wilbur thought it was inherently bad to be Native American.
“I remember thinking that being an Indian meant poverty,” she said. “Being an Indian meant that we were going to die younger. It meant that we were going to be raped and nobody would care. Those were the things that were the Indian identity to me.”
But when she was 21, her mother asked her to photograph a group of elders in her community — the last nine people in her tribe who learned to speak their indigenous language in their homes — and it started Wilbur on a journey to understand how Native Americans’ history is intertwined with their contemporary reality. Since then, she has taken photographs of native people in more than 400 tribal communities in the U.S. and has displayed them in shows across Washington.