Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ghosts of Wounded Knee

by Matthew Power; photos by Aaron Huey

The living conditions on America's "Indian" Reservations receive very little coverage on a national and international level. In this portfolio of photos by Huey, with text by Power, Harper's provides a window into the everyday lives of a handful of people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The photos on their own are chilling and intimate portraits of tattooed young men and the interiors and exteriors of peoples' homes. A boy on horseback stands vigil over an older man passed out or sleeping under a blanket. A girl stands amidst a pile of domestic detritus on an otherwise clean grassy field. The photos capture a sense of a place slightly outside of time, where people endure rather than live.

The text carries as much force as the photos, as Power just allows people to tell their stories, with very few interjections. We read about the influences of 'gangsta' culture and the difficulty of finding employment. We also learn about cheap beers and the prevalence of suicide.

From within the despair though, there emerges a growing sense of cultural identity and pride. Young men speak of performing the Sun Dance, a ritual wherein they are pierced by pieces of bone and tied to a tree, until they free themselves by tearing their flesh. The young are becoming interested in their language and culture again, which provides hope that this group, which has endured and survived so much, will one day again be able to simply live.

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