Embodiment as Discourse in Indigenous Photography

Narrative as Multiplicitous Reality

in Democracy 2.0


A struggle to assert control over images, identities, and localities is part of our everyday political process. When definitions of difference have been exclusionary instead of interconnecting, a subject’s presence and intentionality through a writing of the body is a significant locus for knowledge. From the early photography of Lakota chief Red Cloud (Mahpiya Luta), photography was recognized for its role in community building. Mohawk curator Deborah Doxtator recognized two different ways of ordering knowledge and conceptualizations, where in Euro-Canadian terms people own their heritage, yet in aboriginal terms the culture owns the people. Heritage is marked with what people will never forget, such as broken treaties, the massacre at Wounded Knee, and Louis Riel’s hanging. Reading portraits as conversations between the photographer and subject in relation to contemporary debates implicates viewers into intergenerational conversations where photographic subjects participate agentically in a ‘circuit of contagious experience’. Red Cloud’s portraits are a bridge from the past that enables First Nations’ communities to feel a kinship or culture across time. History and heritage are played out in lived experience in contemporary sites of Indigenous cultural struggle and in their representational practices (Valaskakis, 2005, p. 70). As an invention that served a purpose in public memory, this chapter examines how photography expands intergenerational dialogue and tracks this story through early photographs, contemporary Indigenous photography, and interviews with Jeff Thomas, Shelley Niro, and Arthur Renwick, who offer a commentary on their practice within Indigenous history.

Democracy 2.0

Media, Political Literacy and Critical Engagement


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