The Edward Curtis Project
As a “studied people”, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Peoples of Canada have been categorized, defined identified, and redefined by foreigners and never “allowed” to define themselves. Where do the mixed bloods fit in? Which direction do they take? What opportunities are made available to them? Based on what? The search for an authentic self is the crux of the story. Angeline cannot define who she is because of the history of those who came before her. She’s frozen still, just like those portraits, just like the perished children. Their souls have all been freeze-framed by the onlooker. It’s about the collision of cultures from deep within, like old scars drawing new blood.
Edward Curtis made a living from photographing indigenous tribes across the continent. He lectured about every aspect of their lives and identity. He defined and documented “all” for 30 years. Although his passion and commitment were admirable and he produced beautiful portraits, Curtis was known to rig the outcome, hence the effect it would have upon his Euro-Christian audiences. He thus tampered with the ethnography of North America’s indigenous peoples. Romanticized or demonized, cultural appropriation creates a profound psychological impact upon mainstream ideologies and victimizes its subjects as well.
Edward Curtis offers Angeline something to eat, as he was accustomed to doing in order to win over his subjects. She admits she is always hungry; he feeds her her own buffalo meat. He is the colonist, in control of her own intake, on her own land. She and others like her are being nurtured by the white man’s value systems. Princess Angeline was paid to pose so she could afford to eat as white settlers pushed her people onto reserves. Contemporary Angeline is hungry for answers, starving to find meaning in her very existence.
The relationship with her traditional boyfriend Yiska is what gives Angeline a dose of strength, and the will to survive. He is Rock Medicine to her, solid and strong. He understands completely that “…most people just want us to disappear” – like a fading photograph, but he finds strength in language, culture and tradition. He finds strength in loving her. He finds strength in love. Angeline survives. She does not vanish. And that is a celebration.