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  • Fran Megarry

IOH 1: Guides Reflect on Touring In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now

Updated: Mar 21

Free The Land, 2005 • Joseph J. Allen, Sicangu Lakota Oyate Chromogenic print print Courtesy of Maryam Marne Zafar

Over 60 guides led tours of this powerful special exhibition that gave visitors the opportunity to view the world through the lens of Native photographers. In Our Hands was organized by a curatorial council of Native artists and scholars of Native art, in collaboration with Mia curators, to create the largest-ever exhibition of Native photography in any museum. The exhibition opened the eyes and minds of visitors and guides alike: Read on for the touring experiences of five Mia Guides, starting with Fran Megarry, below.


The In Our Hands exhibition presented an opportunity for visitors and guides to expand their knowledge of the Native American community in the words of Native Americans. Many visitors came to this exhibition with history, thoughts, and preconceived ideas of Native American life. Thanks to the diverse group of curators and community members who organized In Our Hands and trained the touring guides, we had a reawakening to Native American history and culture.


As guides, we were encouraged to use notes and direct quotes in an effort to express the thoughts of the artists themselves, who were expressing their history in their photographs. It was also important to convey that there is a multiplicity of Indigenous perspectives, traditions, and visions of contemporary Native artists. That said, my tour theme that engaged guests was: "Many Voices, Many Stories."


I began each tour with a brief overview of Mia, hoping the comments would lead nicely to honoring the land on which Mia stands. First I would say, “A few words about Mia before we begin:

• Mia houses more than 90,000 works of art

• Mia’s art spans cultural traditions that are as diverse as they are global

• Mia’s entire collection comprises art covering 5,000+ years

• Mia was founded in 1883."


After this I acknowledged the land we are on. “As a non-Native person, I feel it is important to acknowledge:


• The museum resides on the homelands of the Dakhóta people and their

Anishinaabe and Ho-Chunk neighbors.

• Through gallery installations and future exhibitions, Mia pledges to make

visible the creativity and ingenuity of Native artists from the past, the present, and the future.”

Tee Lyn Duke (née Copenace), Toronto, ONT 2010, (from Concreate Indians series) Nadya Kwandibens Animakee Wa Zhing • First Nations Anishinaabe Courtesy of the artist/Red Works Photography ©2010 Red Works Photography

As we visited each artwork, I would begin as if the artist was speaking to us in the first person.  For example, at Tee Lyn Duke by Nadya Kwandibens, I started by saying, “My name is Nadya Kwandibens. I'm a photographer, I founded and run a photo company called Red Works Photography. I've been working for over 20 years now, all across Indian Country. I'm just going to say it. You're not supposed to photograph in TTC Subways, but I did. Because this is, after all, Indigenous land, isn't it?”


This introduction and others in front of the artists’ work helped all of us look more closely and take to heart more deeply the history and efforts of the works in this amazing exhibition.

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