Josh is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) Kalo farmer, activist, and educator from the beautiful island of Kauai. He works with youth to be proud of their Hawaiian culture and community, and believes that through education there can be healing. He says, “We have a lot of sickness. I believe the spiritual sickness and a lot of the physical and mental sickness we encounter in our communities, when we focus our energy, our mana, onto fixing that, we put our minds together and we get our energy moving in the same way, it’s through education.” (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Matika Wilbur is on a mission that will take her across the United States. Weary of stereotypical representations of Native Americans, the high school teacher is determined to photograph every federally-recognized Native American tribe in the country.

“When you see us represented in mass media, you see Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves and Twilight, or maybe on some Netflix series you’ll see an Indian who’s fighting with Congress to have a casino,” Wilbur said. “What you won’t see is doctors and lawyers and contemporary people living in the present.”

Wilbur, a Native American woman of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes, is out to change that. She hopes her pictures will present a well-rounded portrait of today’s Native Americans: People fighting hard to maintain tribal sovereignty and protect ancestral ways, who also have children and family problems and chaos and order and love, like any other people.


Ray, 82, and Fannie, 83, have been married for 65 years. They only speak Dine, so their daughter had to translate for me while I was visiting them. This picture was taken at their sheep camp, where they live without running water. Fannie is a weaver, she shears the wool from the sheep, spins and hand dyes the wool to create beautiful Navajo rugs. Ray worked for the railroad for most of his life but he is now retired to ranch life. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Wilbur has been on the road for more than three years now on a journey that has covered more than 250,000 miles so far.

It’s worthwhile trek, she says, to uplift young Native Americans who are inundated with stories about themselves that revolve around poverty, alcoholism, stereotypical representations, lower life expectancy and a myriad of other social problems.

“I think it’s the result of brutal colonization and the years of genocide, all of the racist federal policies: termination, relocation, assimilation,” said Wilbur. “These policies that have aimed to erase our people have left a lasting impression and we’re in the throes of attempting to recover from the sum of those experiences.”

Wilbur’s venture is called Project 562, after the 562 federally-recognized tribes she plans to photograph, including some on reservations in remote areas of the country. She ultimately plans to exhibit the photos, publish them and see her images used in education curricula.

Darkfeather, Bibiana and Eckos Ancheta from the Tulalip Tribe. (Photo by  Matika Wilbur)

Darkfeather, Bibiana and Eckos Ancheta from the Tulalip Tribe. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

She hopes her photos will help reshape the public’s perception of who Native Americans are.

“There’s something in this collective consciousness that still believes that Indians are lesser human beings, savage, that we’re conquered,” Wilbur said. “It’s like someone is throwing stones at you and it lands somewhere. It lands somewhere on your spirit, and your heart and how you feel about yourself.”

Wilbur’s goal is for her photos to help reshape how young people, like her former high school students, feel about themselves.

Native American youth have the highest suicide levels in the country and Wilbur saw first-hand how false and outdated impressions of Native Americans negatively impacted them and how they felt about themselves.

Ultimately, she hopes her photographs of a diverse people will be not only informative, but also uplifting.

“Hopefully we create something beautiful and positive, something that shows stories of hope and endurance,” she said. “It’s not the dying race, it’s not a manifestation of a romanticized version [of a people].”


Juanita (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Calling Walwatoa (Jemez Pubelo), New Mexico home, Juanita is a community wellness advocate and works for her tribe’s community wellness program. She lives on her tribal lands, and feels grateful for the opportunity to serve her people. Born in Washington, D.C. while her mother was working for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Juanita moved back to her community when she was young. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Fishermen (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Treaty fisherman Chase, Nancy, Tandy and Tanner Wilbur standing in front of the Wilbur family purse seining boat at Swinomish. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Industrial engineering student, Stephen Yellowtail, of the Crow Nation, at his family's cattle ranch in Montana. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Industrial engineering student, Stephen Yellowtail, of the Crow Nation, at his family’s cattle ranch in Montana. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Cousin (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Jaclyn Roessel, Dine’ (Navajo Nation), has an MPA from Arizona State University and works as the Heard Museum’s education and public programs director. She also owns the Naaltsoos Project, which prints cards with Navajo greetings, produces the podcast “Schmooze”, which features interviews with Arizona women about topics ranging from the arts to immigration, blogs at Grownup Navajo, and runs a fashion blog Presence 4.0 with Chelsea Chee and Nanibaa Beck. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Zunii (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Zunii (Photo by Matika Wilbur)

(Photo by Matika Wilbur)

Viola Richards of the Tolowa. (Photo by Matika Wilbur)