Last December, Native American photographer Matika Wilbur embarked upon a journey with a staggeringly ambitious goal — over the next few years, she hopes to photograph members of every single Native American tribe. There were 562 recognized by the federal government when she started (and 566 now), hence the project's title: Project 562.
On the most basic level, her photography simply and elegantly seeks to answer an immeasurably complex question: what does it mean to be Native American today? There's no neat or easy answer to that query — not that American mass media has tried particularly hard (or at all, really) to come up with one. When representations of Indigenous people and cultures do appear in pop culture, the depictions tend to be either ridiculously stereotypical, shallowly and thoughtlessly appropriated, or they wander into the realm of offensive sexualized caricature with no connection to reality at all — an especially horrific tendency when you consider the fact that Native American women are raped and abused at epidemic rates. So, despite Johnny Depp's heartfelt insistence, Native children have nothing to look up to or identify with in his Tonto, and despite Chanel's tepid apologies, putting a model in a fashion headdress during a Cowboys & Indians-themed runway show is not "a tribute to the beauty of craftsmanship."