De­con­struct­ing New­comer “His­tory”

Geist - - Findings - JACINDA MACK ORIG­I­NAL CAP­TION: Bella Coola Amerindi­ans in cer­e­mo­nial re­galia, Bella Coola River Val­ley, B.C. JACINDA’S CAP­TION: Al­bert King, Wil­lie Mac, and El­iza Moody, on her wed­ding day, July 16, 1922 PHOTO BY Har­lan Inger­soll Smith. Cana­dian Mu­seum of

From Price Paid: The Fight for First Na­tions Sur­vival by Bev Sel­lars. Pub­lished by Talon­books in 2016. Jacinda Mack un­der­took a project in which she de­con­structed a se­ries of pho­to­graphs of Abo­rig­i­nal Nux­alk peo­ple taken by Euro­pean set­tlers in Bella Coola in the 1920s. In this ex­cerpt, she dis­cusses the process. Mack is a mem­ber of the Secwepemc and Nux­alk Na­tions. She lives in Wil­liams Lake, BC.

In the orig­i­nal photo se­ries, the cap­tions gave the full names and ti­tles of only the Euro­pean men and re­ferred to the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple sim­ply as “Bella Coola In­di­ans” or “peo­ple in cos­tume.” As a de­scen­dant of th­ese peo­ple, I un­der­stood that names are the big­gest form of ti­tle and cul­ture a per­son can hold in that part of the world. Th­ese peo­ple were ef­fi­ciently si­lenced, dis­graced, be­lit­tled, and dis­missed by the omis­sion of mean­ing­ful photo cap­tions. I chose to turn the ta­bles in or­der to make vis­i­ble the sub­text of racism and eth­no­cen­tric as­sump­tions.

I found out the names of the Nux­alk peo­ple by sim­ply ask­ing around the com­mu­nity where the pho­tos had been taken, and liv­ing rel­a­tives pro­vided me with the in­for­ma­tion I asked for, nearly a hun­dred years later. With this sim­ply ac­quired in­for­ma­tion, I re­cap­tioned the orig­i­nal 1920s pho­tos with the Abo­rig­i­nal names, ti­tles, and vil­lages of our Nux­alk na­tion. I la­belled other pho­tos show­ing Euro­pean men (the pho­tog­ra­phers vis­it­ing the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity), sim­ply as “White Men” with no fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, de­spite the sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the an­thro­po­log­i­cal record that their photo se­ries rep­re­sents.

When I pre­sented the new “text” of the edited pho­tos to my an­thro­pol­ogy class, the ef­fect was im­me­di­ate. Both instructor and stu­dents were ob­vi­ously shocked at the cap­tions; they could not pro­nounce the Abo­rig­i­nal names and were up­set that the Euro­pean men were so un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dis­missed, de­spite their “ob­vi­ous au­thor­ity” as cre­ators of the photo se­ries. It was a great learning dis­cus­sion for most as it ques­tioned many as­pects of cul­ture, priv­i­lege, and how in­for­ma­tion is framed and un­der­stood.

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