In the Hands of Our Elders, an Indigenous Culture Project
Our book of stunning portrait photography and intimate interviews with indigenous elders will celebrate how they sustain their culture.
This is a project of photography, heart and stories,
I am Sharon Eva Grainger, photographer, and I work with Pamela Pakker-Kozicki, project writer. Want to hear how we got the name Dos Polacas? Click HERE. (Hint: It was when we were working on our first project in Mexico in 1997.)
Now, after ten years of working together on a book project,“In the Hands of Our Elders” we have decided to take the next giant step. Part of the project will be a weblink with stories you can hear told by the elders in English and in Kwak'wala, their language.
Please help us raise the money to finish this labor of love and integrity.
Why are we driven to complete this project?
To paraphrase the words of an Australian aboriginal woman: We have not come to this decision as an effort “to help tribal people.” That would be wasting the time of the elders and our supporters. We have come to this decision because our liberation is bound up with resiliency of the elders, the energy of the indigenous youth and the integrity of native communities.
We have decided to create this book because assimilation has swallowed up untold numbers of indigenous cultures around the planet.
The kaleidoscope of world cultures has not yet turned monochromatic but the threat is on the horizon.
What supports the strength and continuity of native civilizations?
Who insures a culture's stability?
When a language dies, what remains of that way of life?
Every indigenous person we have spoken with has the same answer: their elders.
This book celebrates the resilient spirit of tribal elders by using their own stories and and their portraits. The book will be in their words, not ours. The photographs are of their choosing. Please go HERE to read how Sharon takes a portrait.
The elders are the heart and soul of our project.
The book’s full title is In the Hands of Our Elders: A Project of Memory and Future with the Kwakwaka’wakw People of British Columbia. With your invaluable and generous help and support plus our efforts, this book and weblink will celebrate the elders, inspire non-natives and provide the youth with a lasting legacy.
Our ace in the hole
Dos Polacas’ real treasure lies in our unparalleled access to the indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest developed over the last twenty-five years. These personal connections allow us to sit at kitchen tables sipping coffee
and in carving sheds watching artists at work. Every chance we get, we document the elders' humor, knowledge and personalities so they are not lost to the passage of time.
Now we need to record another 40 interviews interviews or so, gather yet more excellent photography and then publish it for the world, the community of Alert Bay, for you, our supporters, and for everyone interested in cultural sustainability through language.
So exactly what experience do we have?
My camera lens has been described as a visual bridge connecting people and translating indigenous cultures to the non-natives around them. Ceremonies and languages, stories and songs, crafts and art move back and forth across this lens-bridge.
I am a fifth generation artist, a professional photographer of over thirty years, published photography in Smithsonian publications and a National Geographic Photography Instructor. I have given talks on the native people of the Pacific Northwest for decades.
Both of Pamela and myself constantly learn from the elders. I have spent many years with native peoples of the Inland and Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada. It has dramatically affected my attitude towards how and what I see. Against a backdrop of magnificent natural beauty,
I have learned about the richness and drama deeply woven into the daily lives of these native peoples who consider their land and territory as part of their community. It is my honor to be allowed to create portraits of these elders and their hands for this book.
The job of documenting elders belongs not only to the photographer’s eye but also to the writer’s words. The Kwakwaka’wakw elders talk and Pamela listens,
recording their voices, using their stories to strengthen vital cross-generational and cross-cultural exchange. Pamela and I have worked together on many smaller projects since 1997, when we produced the publication Opening Hearts about the Raramuri people (Tarahumara) of the Copper Canyon of Mexico.
For Opening Hearts, Pamela wrote the background pieces and sidebars, transcribed interviews, and assembled the pieces for publication. She put the complex culture and history of the Raramuri people into a context that allowed for non-Raramuri to begin to understand this tribe’s self-imposed isolation from the Mexico around them. Since then we have worked on numerous projects large and small. For In the Hands of Our Elders, Pamela’s role is to not only capture the elder’s spoken words but create the interview’s context on both an intimate and universal scale in as few words as possible. Pamela brings context and a written beauty to my photography.
We speak about the world in the same way. I use imagery and Pamela uses words.
Our goal is to have 90% of the words in our book be from interviews so that it is the words of the elders you read explaining their culture.
This project also stretches into the Kwak’wala language education. Pamela records the elders’ stories in both their native language and in English to be available through a weblink.
The money raised here will fund
- equipment and
100% of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to teaching Indigenous language. Pamela and I will not take any royalties or any of the profits from the sale of the completed books.
We are supported in this project by
- the U'mista Cultural Center and Museum in Alert Bay, British Columbia
- the Burke Museum in Seattle
- the University of British Columbia's Belkin Gallery
- the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver BC
- Lindblad Expeditions
These organizations support us by using their own social media to broadcast this project.The Kickstarter funds go to publishing 500 to 1,000 books equipment travel 100% of the proceeds from book sales will go toward indigenous language education.
The book will contain:
- 150 pages of intimate black and white portrait photography of the Kwakwaka'wakw Elders by Sharon Eva Grainger
- Sharon's stunning photography of the Pacific Northwest coast
- Elders' personal interviews and stories
- A dedicated webpage with Elders' recorded stories in both English and Kwak’wala
And last, but certainly not least,
we dedicate this work to children who are our greatest resource.
Risks and challenges
Our first challenge is finding the relaxed time to sit with the Kwakwaka'wakw elders. When we are with the elders photographing and interviewing, we are on their time. We have budgeted for many trips to Alert Bay but just because we are ready to go does not mean everything falls into place. Interviews happen on the elders' schedule, in a relaxed fashion or not at all. We also understand the majority of the community is on the move during the summer, harvesting berries, fishing and bringing home tidal groceries. Most of our work will probably be done over the winter months, from October 2016 to March 2017 although some excellent opportunities may come to us over the summer. Serendipities, like fireflies, land in your hands only when you're not trying too hard to catch them.
Our second challenge is finding an enthusiastic publisher who can work with us, crafting this book within our budget. We have two excellent leads we are currently following up. and will broadcast publishing decisions as they happen.
- (30 days)