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  • Cara Richardson

IOH 3: Challenging and Rewarding at the Same Time

In Our Hands: Native Photography 1890s to Now, 2023 Front Cover Collage of of photographs by B.A. Haldane, Tshimshian, Ossie Michelin, Inuit and Ryan Redcorn, Osage Book Designer: Kevin Coochwytewa for Minneapolis Institute of Art

In Our Hands was one of my most impactful touring experiences. I went into my first tours with great solemnity. I felt the weight of my husband’s Ojibwe/Cree ancestors telling me to get it right and the caution given by the curators to avoid interpreting the work but to strictly express the artists’ intentions. My slate of tours included a wide variety of students, including all-Native groups, and I found it a bit daunting.


After my first few tours I felt I had failed the students. I couldn’t keep their attention - they wandered about with seeming disregard, and perhaps disdain, for my attempts to inform and share. I realized then that I needed to shed my solemn weight, set aside my own agenda and amend my touring approach: keeping it respectful but with more lightness and a focus on the students. I felt I needed to allow them to make connections if they wanted to do so, but not force anything.


To get there, I went about observing self-guiding students to see what they were drawn to and were discussing. I watched the FX series Reservation Dogs about Indigenous teens in Oklahoma, and thought about popular culture and what young people are into.  Having gone through that self-reflection process, my tours turned around completely.

Na Kanikupe’e I ke kai (The Sound of the Kupe’e When it Falls into the Ocean, 2008 Lehuanani C. Waipa Ah Nee • Kanaka Maoli Digital photograph • Courtesy of the C.N. Gorman Museum ©Lehuanani C. Waipa Ah Nee

Some works in the exhibition stood out: Catherine Blackburn’s work But There’s No Scar II was an all-around favorite. Students were drawn to its beauty and moved by its beaded depth. Younger students enjoyed making the sound of a kupe’e snail falling into the ocean when looking at Lehuanani C. Waipa Ah Nee’s photograph Na Kanikupe’e I ke kai (The Sound of the Kupe’e When it Falls into the Ocean).

My Indian Relay, 2008 Sam Minkler, Diné (Navajo) Digital print • Courtesy of the artist ©2022 Sam Minkler

While viewing My First Indian Relay, Wyoming by Sam Minkler, they were mesmerized by a horse relay racing video. There was a moment that I cherish when a mother told me about the protests at the Standing Rock reservation. She was at the time pregnant with her son who was on my tour and she had left the encampment just before the blizzard, captured in Russel Daniels’ photograph of the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock. Her tears reminded me of the true weight of this exhibition and what an honor it was to be there.

Blizzard Conditions Help the DAPL security lights illuminate the Oceti Sakowin Camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, December 4, 2016 Russel Albert Daniels • Diné (Navajo) and Ho-Chunk Digital print Courtesy of the artist ©Russel Albert Daniels

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