“It seems to get more confusing each time I return. I am not getting closer to a conclusion. It just is what it is. My photos are a witness, not a solution. They are the dark and the light and every struggle between…
I want people to understand that what they see in these images is a result of a very long and very calculated oppression. It’s convenient that we can now step back and say: ‘Oh, no! Look. They are doing it to themselves! There is nothing we can do!’ Very convenient for us.”
That’s Aaron Huey on his gripping photos recently published by the New York Times in “Behind the Scenes: Still Wounded.” Aaron is a white photo-journalist who went to Pine Ridge reservation right here in South Dakota five years ago for a photo assignment, and couldn’t leave. His pictures, and the interview published by the Times, are revealing, depressing, hopeful and a slug of other emotions at once.
He went to Pine Ridge as another white journalist looking for a story. But he found himself called to just be there, instead of looking for the shots to take back to the city. His posture as kind and open-minded observer has given him a perspective most of us would never see without looking through the eyes of the Oglala Lakota. He’s unpeeled much of the bias and judgement that usually comes with any view of South Dakota’s own Third World Country.
I’ve long wanted to do something to help. I have no idea what, if anything, that might be. I’ve asked friends who call the rez home, without falling on an answer. I feel called to be there for some part of my life–it whispers to me like an unknown lover off in the distance, soft and mysterious and persistent. And I do not go.
Jaim and I had a long conversation about this tonight after I read Huey’s interview, and the dozens of passionate and wise comments left on the Times site by other readers who’s hearts were grabbed like mine in one way or another.
What is our responsibility? This is the question that I cannot shake. By “our,” I guess in part I mean all of humanity, and in part I mean the rest of us here in the Dakotas, not living on Pine Ridge, or Standing Rock, or any other impoverished rez. On my last trip to Standing Rock, I was treated like an outsider, because that’s what I am. Just another wasi’chu. I was invited to look in, but only from the front walk, and only by my white tour guide. It was convenient to go back to my home and worry no more.
Yet, I am Lakota. If I am human, then, as wise philosopher Parker Palmer says, nothing human can be foreign to me. We are one body, right? I am the chief stripped of his feather bonnet, the warrior sent to starve in a camp, the mother murdered at Wounded Knee, and the 3-year-old daughter of alcoholic and impoverished parents. I am the life and rebirth of the sun dancer, the drummer at the pow wow, the hopeless tribal councilman, the local community organizer, the traditional medicine man, and the teenager about to cut my wrist. I am the latest photo-journalist to pass through and the youth group building a house and the professor come to study a broken people. I am also the treaty-breaking congressman, the American genocide, the well-intentioned missionary, the manifest destiny settler, and the mighty nation who has forgotten its sins.
And, I am a blogger who prays you will see and read and contemplate “Behind the Scenes: Still Wounded.” Ignoring this devastation can no longer be convenient for South Dakota.
(Thanks to Madville Times for sharing the NYT piece.)