Photography helps Native youth enrich their lives


photography helps native youth enrich their lives.jpgBefore the cold winter season claimed

its place in the Twin Cities area this year, six Native American high

school students from across the area were able to enjoy a memorable


On an October afternoon, participants

in the Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project and

their mentors connected with the elements on a canoe journey down the

Mississippi River.

The students were

armed with 35 mm film cameras and anticipation for whatever this

journey may have brought. Second year participant, Breanna Green

shared about her experience, “Being on the water is healing and so


Participants and

mentors alike carefully moved along one of the largest rivers in the

world across the glistening sparkle of the reflection of the sunlight

with wonderment and curiosity. This incredible opportunity was the

perfect environment for connection to the natural world, the basis

for creative thought which is fertile ground for photographic


On Nov. 22, six Native American high

school students celebrated the completion of their participation in

the Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project at the

Minneapolis Photography Center. Rainey Rock (White Earth Ojibwe),

Sage Mills (Lakota), Breanna Green (Red Lake Ojibwe), Andrew

Fairbanks (White Earth Ojibwe), Lupe Thornhill (Red Lake Ojibwe) and

Elizabeth Santana (Hunkpapa Lakota) invited their families to their

very own gallery opening featuring their work. Hoka Hey drum group, a

collective of young Native men, recognized the students and families

with an honor song. Dozens of supporters from the Native arts

community came to support the young artists as well to share food,

stories and prayer for this project.

The word “Mazinaakizige” is an

Ojibwe word meaning, “the act of creating pictures.”

Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project launched a

pilot program three years ago in collaboration with the Minneapolis

Photo Center and the Minnesota Historical Society with sponsorship

from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Maren Levad, Museum Outreach

Specialist at the Minnesota Historical Society took on stewardship of

the program, since its inception. The focus was to provide Native

students with historical background of photography as well as to

build photographic skills. In order to implement a more cultural

approach to the program, Levad connected with Indigenous Visual

Artist and Filmmaker, Missy Whiteman to bring cultural dimension to

this work.

For those that have had the

opportunity to work with Whiteman, they know her work comes from a

deep grounding in her identity as an Indigenous person. She is from

the Arapaho and Kickapoo Nations and she finds a natural spiritual

healing through her art and she shares that insight with the students

participating in the program.

Elizabeth Santana, a junior at South

High All Nations, was accepted into Mazinaakizige this year describes

her experience with the cultural aspect, “There are really good

vibes with everyone here. We are all very productive together, it’s

like we’re family.”

This years’ program offers Native

youth a unique opportunity to learn more about film photography, a

dying art form. With digital photography ingrained so much in

everyday film making, film photography is becoming a specialized

discipline. Throughout the three years of the program, American

Indian students spent 10 weeks together, learning, creating, sharing

and connecting to the film photographic process through an Indigenous


This year, participants delved into

early photographic methods and ultimately producing Van Dyke style

photos themselves. Named for its brownish overtone after painter

Anthony Van Dyke, this process originates from argentotypes invented

in 1842. One of the unique signatures of this style is the use of a

variety of different kinds of paper, typically watercolor-compatible

textures. Digital negatives were implemented into this year’s

process, bridging the present with the past offering participants a

rich photographic education.

Program mentors and photography

specialists Nathan Lewis and Stefanie Motta brought a wealth of

knowledge of the Van Dyke technique to the program. Coral Moore,

mentor from the Minnesota Historical Society shared how photography

can help Native students focus their energy in a healthy way,

“Photography is a powerful tool for self-expression for Native


“This is a tough medium to work

with. This process teaches our students humility and patience. They

become attached to the images they want to produce, so when it

doesn’t work out, it’s a humbling feeling.” Whiteman said about

the student’s experience with the film process.

Disappointment is not always

comfortable, but can help a young person grow and mature. Rainey

Rock, a senior at Harding High School, spoke about what she took away

from the program, “I learned how to take constructive criticism

without taking it personally.” All of which, can be important

lessons for the development of high school students in order to

prepare them for the future.

When asked about what went well with

the program, one of the common themes that came from students and

mentors is the overall welcoming feeling and gratuity for creative

environment. Moore credits Orin and Abby Rutchick, founders of

Membership for the Minneapolis Photography Center for providing a

creative space for the program, “It is such a beautiful space and

I’m thankful to them for always showing such kind hospitality to

our program.”

Participant Breanna Green felt

strongly like she belonged there, “The food and love they showed us

helped me to be successful in this program.” An act that can go a

long way to proving that Indigenous values of giving can be a best

practice to support Native youth.

Santana reflects on her personal

development thanks to the program, “I learned that by keeping your

mind open to new things, that you can find that you’re really great

at something.”

PHOTO: Mazinakizie participants (left to right): Rainey Rock, Lupe Thornhill, Andrew Fairbanks, Sage Mills, Elizabeth Santana and Breanna Green. (Photo by Deanna Standing Cloud)