7-1 | Table of Con­tents | DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.NBW.7-1.10 | DycePDF

Abstract | This paper ana­lyzes non-Indige­nous rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Kainai (Blood) cer­e­mo­ni­al dances in West­ern Cana­da by com­par­ing two dis­tinct pho­to­graph­ic events sep­a­rat­ed by a cen­tu­ry. The first pho­tog­ra­ph­er, William Han­son Boorne, exhibits colo­nial assump­tions about Indige­nous peo­ple that were preva­lent in the 1880s. He uti­lized mytholo­gies about the cam­era as a “shad­ow catch­er” when he sur­rep­ti­tious­ly pho­tographed the sun dance against the wish­es of the Kainai, cap­tur­ing images of a prac­tice he believed was about to dis­ap­pear as the West was trans­formed by moder­ni­ty. The sec­ond pho­tog­ra­ph­er, George Web­ber, is a con­tem­po­rary doc­u­men­tar­i­an oper­at­ing out of Cal­gary, AB. In 2000, he also pho­tographed par­tic­i­pants in the Kainai sun dance. While he shared Boorne’s aim to depict spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and desire to present the West in trans­for­ma­tion, Webber’s pic­tures and pho­to­graph­ic prac­tices are sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent than his pre­de­ces­sor. He treats the cam­era as a cross-cul­tur­al mem­o­ry tool and means of under­stand­ing per­son­al change. Com­par­i­son of the two pho­to­graph­ic events illu­mi­nates the Cana­di­an West as a visu­al dis­course and pho­tog­ra­phy as “the­o­ry in action.” 
Résumé | Cet arti­cle analyse les représen­ta­tions non-Indigènes des dans­es céré­monielles des Kainai (Gens-du-Sang) de l'Ouest du Cana­da en com­para­nt deux événe­ments pho­tographiques dis­tincts séparés par un siè­cle. Le pre­mier pho­tographe, William Han­son Boorne, était imprégné des pré­somp­tions colo­niales sur les peu­ples Autochtones qui pré­valaient au cours des années 1880. Boorne a employé les mytholo­gies liées à l'appareil pho­to, comme sa pré­ten­due capac­ité à « cap­tur­er l’ombre » (‘shad­ow catch­er') en pho­tographi­ant la tra­di­tion­nelle danse du soleil con­tre les souhaits des Kainais. Selon lui, il pho­tographi­ait là les images d'une pra­tique qu'il croy­ait être sur le point de dis­paraître à cause de la mod­erni­sa­tion de l'Ouest. Le deux­ième pho­tographe, George Web­ber, est un doc­u­men­tariste con­tem­po­rain basé à Cal­gary (Alber­ta). En 2000, il a égale­ment pho­tographié les par­tic­i­pants à la danse du soleil des Kainais. Bien que Web­ber partage l'objectif de Boorne de représen­ter visuelle­ment la spir­i­tu­al­ité et le mou­ve­ment de mod­erni­sa­tion de l'Ouest, sa pra­tique pho­tographique est dif­férente de celle de Boorne. Web­ber con­ce­vait l’utilisation de l’appareil pho­to comme un out­il de mémoire cul­turelle et une façon de com­pren­dre les change­ments tels que vécus par les indi­vidus. La com­para­i­son des deux événe­ments pho­tographiques que représen­tent Boorne et Web­ber sont mis en con­texte dans le cadre des deux thèmes de ce numéro spé­cial : l'Ouest cana­di­en comme un dis­cours visuel, et la pho­togra­phie comme « théorie en l'action ».

Matt Dyce | Uni­ver­si­ty of Winnipeg
George Web­ber | Photographer

William Hanson Boorne, George Webber, and The People of The Blood

2_webberwebFig­ure 1/Cover Image. “Horace Shout­ing in his liv­ing room hold­ing a pho­to­graph of him­self after com­plet­ing his Sun Dance in 2000, 2005” (Web­ber, Peo­ple of the Blood 101).

This spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions, North By West, con­sid­ers how pho­tog­ra­phy is “the­o­ry in action” in the con­text of visu­al dis­cours­es of the Cana­di­an West. Assign­ing these two togeth­er is a felic­i­tous pair­ing, as pho­tog­ra­phy and “the West” are both inven­tions of the 19th cen­tu­ry: con­tained in each is the lit­er­al sense of being a new­ly dis­cov­ered prac­tice or a place, yet their larg­er mak­ing can­not be sub­tract­ed from the realm of cul­tur­al imag­i­na­tion. Pho­tog­ra­phy, devel­oped in the cru­cible of a Euro­pean indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion, was quick­ly enlist­ed as a medi­um through which to present moder­ni­ty (Tra­cht­en­berg; Kern). The real­ism appar­ent in the cam­era became a sig­nif­i­cant tool for orga­niz­ing the nat­ur­al sci­ences, freez­ing the chaos of the observ­able world into a still and silent doc­u­ment; in the home it became the pre­ferred method of record­ing fam­i­ly his­to­ries and expe­ri­ence. Emblem­at­ic of the mod­ern world under­go­ing a peri­od of rapid change and upheaval, pho­tog­ra­phy offered not only the remark­able abil­i­ty to cap­ture and freeze time but also appeared to over­come space by mak­ing the dis­tant appre­hen­si­ble. For many Euro­peans, it made remote lands of impe­r­i­al con­quest appear before their eyes and helped orga­nize the peo­ple who lived there into the racial and social prej­u­dices imag­ined by “Euro­pean civilization.”

In par­al­lel, cat­e­gories of time and space also informed the inven­tion of the Cana­di­an West. After pur­chas­ing Hudson’s Bay Company’s land rights in 1871, the nascent coun­try of Cana­da planned for inde­pen­dent growth through a nation­al pol­i­cy call­ing for open­ing the West to farm­ing and trans­form­ing it into a cap­tive mar­ket for East­ern man­u­fac­ture. To accom­plish this goal, an array of spa­tial tech­nolo­gies were released on the region: the train was meant to anni­hi­late dis­tance between east and west; the squared sur­vey grid of the Domin­ion Land Act aimed to fix an egal­i­tar­i­an set­tler soci­ety in place; gov­ern­ment car­tog­ra­phers gave the land new names and mean­ings; Indige­nous peo­ples were forcibly moved to reserves; the church­es hoped to spread Anglo Protes­tant val­ues; and visu­al pro­pa­gan­da in settler’s pam­phlets and CPR adver­tis­ing promised a coun­try of plen­ty, imag­in­ing gold wheat fields and a string of glis­ten­ing prairie metrop­o­lis­es stretch­ing across the plains (Owram). At the turn of the cen­tu­ry, the Cana­di­an West was cre­at­ed as a thor­ough­ly mod­ern space, a fron­tier rep­re­sent­ing an implic­it­ly new area that promised to be a step for­ward into a dynam­ic future. Thus, in the realm of cul­tur­al imag­i­na­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy and the West were of the same order: they both promised a means of coor­di­nat­ing space and time. Each sig­nalled a break between the past and the future, and both con­veyed the dynam­ic sense of moder­ni­ty and sud­den­ness of change present in their age. In turn, look­ing at the places where pho­tog­ra­phy and the West inter­sect can help illu­mi­nate the rela­tion between visu­al dis­cours­es and West­ern imagery and the anchor points that have bound them together.

In this essay I draw com­par­isons and con­trasts in two places where pho­tog­ra­phy and the West were enmeshed in order to ana­lyze the under­stud­ied rela­tion­ship between pho­tog­ra­phy, his­to­ry, and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. I argue that a pair of pho­to­graph­ic encounters—one in the 1880s and one in the 1990s—may pro­vide help­ful book­ends for think­ing about the rela­tion­ship between these issues. Both take place on the Kainai Reserve in south­west Alber­ta and involve non-Indige­nous respons­es to the cer­e­mo­ni­al sun dance car­ried out there. A com­par­a­tive analy­sis of these pho­to­graph­ic sets, sep­a­rat­ed by a cen­tu­ry, offers insights into the rela­tion­ship between peo­ples and con­cepts in the late-19th cen­tu­ry and today.

As a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al geo­g­ra­ph­er, I was invit­ed to reflect on the work of Cal­gary-based doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­ph­er, George Web­ber, and to do so using “pho­tog­ra­phy as the­o­ry in action” as a method for think­ing through visu­al dis­cours­es of the West­ern Cana­di­an fron­tier. North By West inten­tion­al­ly aimed to place aca­d­e­mics and prac­tic­ing pho­tog­ra­phers in col­lab­o­ra­tion with one anoth­er. The assess­ment offered here emerged out of a con­ver­sa­tion between myself and Web­ber. In order to con­tin­ue that con­ver­sa­tion here, I jux­ta­pose his recent work with a pho­tog­ra­ph­er work­ing in the same area 100 years ear­li­er, William Han­son Boorne. They form impor­tant book­ends of the peri­od, since both Boorne and Web­ber offer pho­to­graph­ic respons­es to Indige­nous cer­e­mo­ni­al prac­tices in the West. This essay pro­ceeds by recount­ing Boorne’s pho­to­graph­ic work relat­ing to the sun dance of the Kainai peo­ple in West­ern Cana­da and then explor­ing the ways that aca­d­e­mics have inter­ro­gat­ed, over­turned, and sought to decol­o­nize pre­vi­ous under­stand­ings of Indige­nous views on and uses of pho­tog­ra­phy. With this method­ol­o­gy estab­lished, I return to the work of Web­ber to ana­lyze how his pho­to­graph­ic point-of-view and work on the Kainai Reserve upsets and chal­lenges received ideas of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, fron­tier, and history.

1880s—William Hanson Boorne

In the late-19th cen­tu­ry the Kainai were known as the Blood Tribe and were one of three bands mak­ing up the larg­er Black­foot Con­fed­er­a­cy. Their trad­ing rela­tion­ship with Euro­peans dat­ed to the ear­ly fur-trade peri­od and they retained a sig­nif­i­cant amount of pow­er and influ­ence in the region. Yet their auton­o­my had been severe­ly under­mined by the extir­pa­tion of the plains bison, the incur­sion of white set­tler soci­ety, and gov­ern­ment attempts to erode their cul­ture through the Grad­ual Civ­i­liza­tion Act (1857) and lat­er the fed­er­al Indi­an Act (1876). As their soci­ety was under assault by colo­nial­ism, the rich spir­i­tu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Kainai, Sik­si­ka, and Peigan peo­ple were repur­posed to serve as sym­bols denot­ing Euro­pean ideas about the fron­tier in this peri­od. Although the horse had long been an inte­gral part of Kainai cul­ture and social rank, images depict­ing a lone war­rior on horse­back roam­ing the prairies con­jured for many view­ers a con­cept of inde­pen­dence from the deca­dent grasp of mod­ern, indus­tri­al cities and waged labour. Bril­liant head­dress­es and embroi­dered gar­ments evoked much the same inter­est in the par­lours of the East (“Mak­ing Sense out/of the Visu­al”). The pho­tographs in Fig­ures 2, 3, and 4 offer a glimpse of the types of images that inter­est­ed colo­nial soci­ety. The images cap­tured Indige­nous peo­ples and trans­formed them into an over­lap­ping set of mean­ings. For some, these pic­tures were evi­dence of a world of free­dom that still exist­ed out­side “civ­i­lized” colo­nial soci­ety, while oth­ers recoiled in hor­ror at the appar­ent “sav­agery” they por­trayed (Welch). Indeed, many had no trou­ble in expe­ri­enc­ing both of these impres­sions simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. More­over, the cul­ture of real­ism ascribed to the cam­era reminds us that Vic­to­ri­ans believed pho­tographs car­ried with­in them the moral truth of their sub­jects. Even the clear­ly staged “Deli­galu­ga­seit­sa – Sepistopota” shown in Fig­ure 3 would have been viewed as an open win­dow into the souls and indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter of the sub­jects por­trayed (Lal­vani). The pop­u­lar­i­ty of West­ern imagery of this order was in large part due to the unsta­ble expe­ri­ence of white spec­ta­tors view­ing them through the lens of colo­nial racism, where the Indige­nous sub­jects evinced both desire and revul­sion (Said; Aloula).

figure-2-mutsinamakan-and-wife-mccord-mp-1973-49-3-21-p1webFig­ure 2.Mutsi­na­makan and wife, T'suu T'ina, near Cal­gary, AB, about 1885” by William Han­son Boorne (McCord Muse­um, Mon­tre­al MP-1973.49.3.21).

figure-3-deligalugaseitsa-sepostopota-mccord-mp-1973-49-3-39webFig­ure 3. “Deli­galu­ga­seit­sa - Sepistopota, Sarcee Indi­ans, Sarcee, near Cal­gary, AB, about 1885” by William Han­son Boorne (McCord Muse­um, Mon­tre­al MP-1973.49.3.39).

figure-4-warriors-society-blood-dance-society-glenbow-na-2172-5webFig­ure 4. “War­riors' soci­ety, Blood sun dance, Gle­ichen, Alber­ta” in 1887 by William Han­son Boorne (Glen­bow Muse­um, Cal­gary NA-2172-5).

Among those who trav­elled to the West hop­ing to prof­it from the pho­tog­ra­phy of Indige­nous peo­ples was William Han­son Boorne, a stu­dio por­trait artist orig­i­nal­ly from Eng­land. Boorne and his part­ner, Charles May, had set up a small stu­dio in the fron­tier out­post of Edmon­ton and began pho­tograph­ing the chang­ing West. Their visu­al nar­ra­tive framed the West­ern land­scape in two ways. Indige­nous peo­ple were pre­sent­ed as ethno­graph­ic evi­dence of life before the arrival of white settlers—if not framed by stu­dio back­drop wilder­ness, Indige­nous sub­jects were usu­al­ly set against vast and seem­ing­ly emp­ty spaces. In con­trast, the pio­neer trans­for­ma­tion of the prairie was val­orized through images of progress depict­ing work­ers engaged in rail­way con­struc­tion, farm­ers plough­ing fields, or vis­tas of grow­ing towns and cities (Fig­ures 5 and 6). Unlike images of Indige­nous peo­ple, the mean­ings here are unam­bigu­ous: they offered a nar­ra­tive of colo­nial soci­ety set­tling the unused plains, mod­ern­iz­ing and mak­ing them pro­duc­tive. These images were sold to pub­lish­ers and col­lec­tors in east­ern North Amer­i­ca and Europe; here Boorne’s goal was to exploit the fact he was one of the few prac­tic­ing pho­tog­ra­phers in the new West­ern frontier.

figure-6-cpr-bridge-over-elbow-river-glenbow-na-2399-23webFig­ure 5. “View of Cal­gary, 1889” by William Han­son Boorne (Glen­bow Muse­um, Cal­gary NA-2399-23).

figure-5-view-of-calgary-1889-glenbow-na-1753-2webFig­ure 6. “Cana­di­an Pacif­ic Rail­way bridge over Elbow Riv­er” by William Han­son Boorne (Glen­bow Muse­um, Cal­gary NA-1753-2).

After some years of finan­cial uncer­tain­ty, in 1885 Boorne dis­cov­ered a lucra­tive oppor­tu­ni­ty that drew him to the Blood peo­ples’ lands around what is now Stand­off, Alber­ta. He aimed to pho­to­graph a rare event nev­er pic­tured before: the cer­e­mo­ni­al sun dance of the Black­foot Con­fed­er­a­cy. Sun dances were and con­tin­ue to be wide­ly prac­ticed by Indige­nous groups through­out North Amer­i­ca. It is impos­si­ble for out­siders to accu­rate­ly con­vey the impor­tance of the sun dance or to rep­re­sent the diver­si­ty of prac­tices that have exist­ed over time between dif­fer­ent groups. In the 19th-cen­tu­ry inte­ri­or plains, sun dances served numer­ous func­tions. Fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties con­gre­gat­ed annu­al­ly at these cer­e­mo­ni­al events, allow­ing for the arrange­ment of mar­riages, the pass­ing of sto­ries, the trad­ing of goods, and the obser­va­tion of sacred rites of renew­al (Pet­ti­pas). An impor­tant aspect was the dance itself, which took place inside an open lodge con­struct­ed for the occa­sion. What inter­est­ed many 19th-cen­tu­ry colo­nial voyeurs was not the sacred cer­e­mo­ni­al knowl­edge of the plains peo­ples, but the prac­tice called “pierc­ing.” At some events, dancers had their chest mus­cles cut open and a piece of wood drawn through the open­ing. With this fix­ture in place, rawhide ropes were used to hang a drum from the body or were strung to a pole in the cen­tre of the lodge. By danc­ing through the pain cre­at­ed as the ropes pulled at the wood­en anchors, par­tic­i­pants hon­oured the Cre­ator on behalf of the larg­er com­mu­ni­ty, even­tu­al­ly rip­ping holes in their flesh as the dancers broke free.  Rather than see the self-endurance of the dancers as a rit­u­al of renew­al, how­ev­er, Boorne imag­ined the dance as a kind of “tor­ture” he could prof­it from by cap­tur­ing on film. He pro­posed to pho­to­graph this rit­u­al for pri­vate collectors.

In the pages of the Toron­to-based Cana­di­an Pho­to­graph­ic Jour­nal (1892-1897), Boorne shared details of his two trips to the area, describ­ing his attempts to cap­ture images of the sun dance cer­e­mo­ny. He believed the most valu­able would be images of what he termed the “tor­ture” scene, which he knew would be desir­able pre­cise­ly because it had nev­er before been pho­tographed. Vic­to­ri­an audi­ences were fas­ci­nat­ed by the sala­cious and “sav­age” ways of the plains, the images offer­ing both the plea­sure of voyeurism and the oppor­tu­ni­ty for moral con­dem­na­tion. Viewed through the racial log­ic of impe­r­i­al suprema­cy, the self-harm involved in the cer­e­mo­ny pro­vid­ed evi­dence of the per­ceived racial degen­er­a­cy of Indige­nous groups and showed the neces­si­ty for the civ­i­liz­ing pow­er of colo­nial­ism. Boorne trad­ed tobac­co, tea, and oth­er goods to gain entrance to the cer­e­mo­ny. How­ev­er, his first attempt to access the sun dance failed. Accord­ing to his accounts, as soon as his cam­era was set up, “the rack­et began. They crowd­ed around me, threw a blan­ket over the cam­era, yelled, shout­ed, danced and actu­al­ly fired guns over my head to scare me” (Boorne 372). It was only on his sec­ond trip to the sun dance in 1887 when he vis­it­ed the Blood Reserve and met the famed Chief Red Crow that he was able to pho­to­graph freely. Accord­ing to Boorne, after three days of tak­ing pho­tographs of the gen­er­al camp (see Fig­ure 4),[1] his pres­ence was becom­ing ordi­nary and the chief and sev­en oth­er head­men all accept­ed a pay­ment of a cou­ple of dol­lars. At the sun dance the next day, this trans­ac­tion bore fruit. Employ­ing pop­u­lar racist tropes to set the scene, he described how, when some “bucks, braves, and squaws” (Boorne 373) tried to inter­vene with his pic­ture work, Red Crow allowed him to make the photograph.

Boorne’s pho­to­graph of a pierced dancer per­form­ing the sun dance is still avail­able today for any­one who would seek it out; it is sold at online auc­tions where it may be pur­chased for pri­vate col­lec­tion or dis­play.[2] Explor­ing the con­text in which the pho­to­graph was made explains as much about why it was valu­able to colo­nial view­ers then as it offers a win­dow into the desires of colo­nial soci­ety today. Yet, notwith­stand­ing the uncer­tain cir­cum­stances of its pro­duc­tion, Boorne’s 1887 pho­to­graph also allows us to bear wit­ness to an impor­tant his­tor­i­cal act of resis­tance. In a peri­od when the sun dance was increas­ing­ly scru­ti­nized by Indi­an agents and mis­sion­ar­ies intent on halt­ing its practice—indeed, the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment out­lawed sun dances in 1895—Boorne’s pho­to­graph records an Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty in open defi­ance of colo­nial rule. No mat­ter what mean­ing derived from it, the pho­to­graph as a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment is enmeshed in a broad­er sense of the pass­ing moment it was intend­ed to cap­ture. As Boorne point­ed out, “Nine braves were tor­tured that day, and this I believe was the last ‘sun dance’ held by the Indi­ans in the North West” (373). Refus­ing to acknowl­edge his own impli­ca­tion in this his­tor­i­cal turn, Boorne explained, “All the old cus­toms are grad­u­al­ly dying out” (373). In pre­sent­ing this claim, he both obfus­cat­ed the role of set­tler colo­nial­ism in attempt­ing to extin­guish those same cus­toms and appealed to a pop­u­lar but mis­tak­en belief that Indige­nous peo­ples were a “van­ish­ing race” (Ryan; Lyman and Cur­tis). His descrip­tion was clear­ly moti­vat­ed by a desire to increase the val­ue of his pho­tog­ra­phy. The notion that such scenes would nev­er be seen again drove a kind of anthro­po­log­i­cal rush to doc­u­ment the final moments of the Indige­nous North Amer­i­cans untaint­ed by West­ern civ­i­liza­tion. While the cam­era was an instru­men­tal part of cap­tur­ing this sup­posed dis­ap­pear­ance, the desire for memo­ri­al­iza­tion was dri­ven by a belief that Indige­nous soci­ety was incom­men­su­rate with the unfold­ing pat­tern of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion that was grad­u­al­ly over­tak­ing and trans­form­ing West­ern Cana­da. The title of Boorne’s account, “With the Sav­ages of the Far West,” evoked the same bina­ry ten­sion between a space and peo­ple fad­ing into his­to­ry and an emer­gent soci­ety wit­ness­ing their demise. Con­jur­ing a medieval cru­sade into a hea­then land, he described him­self as a “knight of the cam­era” (372). By describ­ing his pho­tog­ra­phy as a cru­sade into a space out­side civ­i­liza­tion and a step back­wards into the past, he elab­o­rat­ed on the shroud of myth he believed still hung over the land of the Blood. Key to this ten­sion was his expla­na­tion of their reluc­tance to be photographed:

I must digress a lit­tle here, to explain that the Indi­ans are the most super­sti­tious of peo­ple, and in those days it was a very dif­fi­cult mat­ter indeed to get one to allow a pho­to­graph to be tak­en, even with the offer of mon­ey. They were begin­ning to know the sight of a cam­era, and under­stood what it was for, but what they could not com­pre­hend was how a ‘spir­it pic­ture,’ as they called it, could be tak­en of them with­out tak­ing some­thing away from them; in short, they believed, as many do even now, that the act of pho­tograph­ing them would short­en their lives, by rob­bing them of a part of them­selves (Boorne 372; ital­ics in original).

In a late-19th cen­tu­ry con­text, Boorne’s pho­tog­ra­phy was indeed the­o­ry in action. Though deep with­in the trap­pings of colo­nial thought, he uti­lized the cam­era at the nexus of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and his­to­ry to make sense of the wider con­tours of time and space wend­ing through the West—it was the Blood’s spir­i­tu­al pro­hi­bi­tion and fear of pho­tog­ra­phy that demon­strat­ed they were out of place in the mod­ern West. Boorne drew Roman­tic colo­nial notions of a van­ish­ing race and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty-as-super­sti­tion through the image itself: expos­ing lay­ers of time and space, he pre­sent­ed his pho­tog­ra­phy as a means of record­ing the moment when the Indige­nous past end­ed and the future of the Cana­di­an West began.

History, Spirituality, Photography

Boorne was by no means alone in either his expe­ri­ence try­ing to secure the images or his will­ing­ness to spec­u­late on the spir­i­tu­al rea­sons behind the dif­fi­cul­ty in doing so. In fact, many his­to­ri­ans have recent­ly tak­en a more seri­ous approach to under­stand­ing the rela­tion­ship between Indige­nous spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and pho­tog­ra­phy. His­to­ri­an Brock Sil­ver­sides explains, “It has been a gen­er­al­ly accept­ed tru­ism that Native peo­ple did not like hav­ing their pic­tures tak­en” (Sil­ver­sides 6). How­ev­er, he sug­gests that while some Indige­nous peo­ple called the cam­era “the face puller” and believed that a pho­to­graph weak­ened some part of them, a more like­ly rea­son to be wary of pho­tog­ra­phy was that Indige­nous peo­ple were aware that white male Euro­peans car­ried asser­tions of their own cul­tur­al supe­ri­or­i­ty. Under­stand­ing that such images would be used to make them objects of scorn, they gen­er­al­ly avoid­ed the invi­ta­tion to sit for por­traits. In Print the Leg­end (2002), Martha Sandweiss attrib­ut­es the fear of cam­eras to out­breaks of dis­ease coin­cid­ing with vis­its from pho­tog­ra­phers who intro­duced new pathogens. Refut­ing claims that Indige­nous peo­ple thought cam­eras were “shad­ow catch­ers,” she coun­ters that these under­stand­ings of Indige­nous belief are square­ly sit­u­at­ed in late-19th-cen­tu­ry prej­u­dices about the back­ward nature of non-white cul­tures. As such, they should be inter­pret­ed as just one more myth based on the sys­temic stereo­typ­ing of Indige­nous land­scapes, sto­ries, and tra­di­tions. She argues instead that the under­stand­ing of pho­tog­ra­phy (con­sent­ing to an image of one­self) was akin to sign­ing one’s name. As such, the pow­ers afford­ed to the cam­era were not for ensnar­ing spir­its but only an “oblique­ly acknowl­edged role in cap­tur­ing the image so eas­i­ly shed by the sub­ject” (Sandweiss 222).

By pos­ing the ques­tion of how pho­tographs and cam­eras entered Indige­nous soci­eties, Sandweiss pro­vides a more nuanced view of how Indige­nous peo­ple were caught in a mesh of Euro­pean social and cul­tur­al ide­olo­gies. Accord­ing to Car­ol Williams in Fram­ing the West (2003), recon­sid­er­a­tions of Indige­nous views must also be paired with broad­er under­stand­ings of the pow­er rela­tions inscribed in cross-cul­tur­al image mak­ing. She argues that “[t]o con­ceive of pho­tog­ra­phy as an active nego­ti­a­tion rather than a mechan­i­cal process result­ing in an arti­fact fun­da­men­tal­ly revis­es con­ven­tion­al assump­tions about the Euro­pean use of pho­tog­ra­phy in colo­nial lands” (Williams 139). Arriv­ing at this con­clu­sion by recon­struct­ing the intro­duc­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy from the per­spec­tive of the Coast Tsal­ish on the Pacif­ic coast of present-day British Colum­bia, Williams has asked not only how pho­tog­ra­phy was intro­duced to Indige­nous groups, but also what kinds of things in their cul­ture pho­tographs replaced. In the case of the pot­latch cer­e­mo­ny, pho­to­graph­ic images replaced goat-hair effi­gies used to stand in for the pres­ence of a dis­tant fig­ure unable to attend the feast. The spir­i­tu­al pow­er of the goat-hair effi­gy was to sym­bol­ize the absent spir­it and con­vey the pres­ence of the per­son metonymi­cal­ly. To her this sug­gests a refined, if dif­fer­ent, under­stand­ing of rep­re­sen­ta­tion from Europeans—the Coast Tsal­ish did not believe images were some stolen part of them­selves, but also rec­og­nized that pho­tographs could car­ry with them impor­tant mean­ings of self. The cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence was made clear in William’s com­par­isons of pho­tographs used to memo­ri­al­ize the dead: while Euro­pean set­tlers usu­al­ly com­mem­o­rat­ed peo­ple by por­tray­ing them alive as a mem­o­ry, the Coast Tsal­ish often request­ed post-mortem pho­tographs to prop­er­ly hon­our the spir­it of the deceased their body rep­re­sent­ed. While the Coast Tsal­ish are dis­tinct from the Kainai and oth­er groups, the exam­ple con­firms a broad wealth of research lead­ing to the con­sen­sus that in many cas­es of tran­scul­tur­al image-mak­ing, Indige­nous peo­ple under­stood Euro­pean con­ven­tions of pho­tog­ra­phy and also pos­sessed their own sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ings of the practice.

What these his­to­ri­ans endeav­our to do is see through the colo­nial archive to access the social and ide­o­log­i­cal world of Indige­nous peo­ple at the time of Euro­pean expan­sion into their ter­ri­to­ries. They reveal a com­plex set of under­stand­ings behind the sur­face of the records left by pho­tog­ra­phers such as Boorne, who claimed to under­stand the West. Not only were his beliefs about Indige­nous spir­i­tu­al rela­tion­ships with pho­tog­ra­phy incor­rect, but the over­all view he perpetuated—that Indige­nous cul­ture was dis­ap­pear­ing under the weight of modernity—was also wrong. The 1887 images were not of the last sun dance per­formed. The cer­e­mo­ny con­tin­ued as an act of resis­tance through the ear­ly-20th cen­tu­ry and was giv­en renewed legal sta­tus when the Gov­ern­ment of Cana­da lift­ed the ban in 1951 as part of its ear­ly efforts at redress.[3] Indeed, the rela­tion­ship between the sun dance and non-Indige­nous pho­tog­ra­phy may also be con­sid­ered from the per­spec­tive of the present. Here, George Webber’s images of the Kainai sun dance pro­vide the start­ing point for a renewed way of think­ing about pho­tog­ra­phy and the West as “the­o­ry in action” and for under­stand­ing his­to­ry and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in the con­tem­po­rary age.

1990s—George Webber

With new per­spec­tives on pho­tog­ra­phy and the West as “the­o­ry in action” we can turn to the pho­tographs of George Web­ber. Webber’s pic­tures can be thought of as an entry-point for show­ing how the same things that his­to­ri­ans have dis­cov­ered get pulled through images in prac­tice. Web­ber is a Cal­gary-based pho­tog­ra­ph­er whose vis­its to the Kainai Reserve between 1992 and 2005 are the basis of Peo­ple of the Blood, what he calls a “pho­to­graph­ic jour­ney.” By the time he took these trips, he had already achieved acclaim for his work employ­ing the can­did style rem­i­nis­cent of pho­to­jour­nal­ist Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son and the social real­ist per­spec­tive of Amer­i­can such as Wal­ter Evans and Dorothea Lange. This lin­eage is telling, giv­en that their pho­to­graph­ic work was, at least in part, a response to the heady boos­t­er­ism of agri­cul­tur­al expan­sion of the late-19th and ear­ly-20th cen­tu­ry that framed the West as a pro­duc­tive Eden. Evans’ and Lange’s images chal­lenged this nar­ra­tive by chron­i­cling the hard­ships of Depres­sion-era farm­ers and share­crop­pers dur­ing the dust­bowl of the late 1930s and 1940s. Where­as the West­ern imag­i­nary of Cana­da and the Unit­ed States had once been sat­u­rat­ed with promis­es of pros­per­i­ty and wealth, the Depres­sion exposed how debt economies and the harsh para­me­ters of indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture on the plains envi­ron­ment had turned the coun­try­side from a mod­ern exper­i­ment into an impov­er­ished social and eco­log­i­cal landscape.

In Webber’s pho­tographs, the inter­sec­tions of time and space that struc­tured the birth of West­ern Cana­da are in dis­ar­ray. Con­sid­ered against the visu­al nar­ra­tive of Edenic West in the late-19th century—in which the latent poten­tial of the land is trans­formed into wealth and progress through human effort—Webber’s pic­tures often por­tray the land­scape as aus­tere and dom­i­nat­ing, trac­ing the nat­ur­al lim­its placed on the excess­es of the imag­i­na­tion. The pic­tures are replete with the pow­er­ful prairie theme of space: the bil­low­ing clouds in the sky, a vast sea of grass­land extends from the bot­tom of the frame, and only a thin lay­er of human arti­fice exist­ing at the line of the hori­zon. The human land­scapes are com­pressed between earth and sky. While his land­scapes bear the traces of decay—abandoned dwellings, a fray­ing grain ele­va­tor, a ruined church—in the social-doc­u­men­tary tra­di­tion he bears wit­ness to the endurance of human­i­ty. While the dream of lim­it­less pros­per­i­ty in the West has erod­ed, the peo­ple liv­ing there are res­olute and resilient in the face of change.

Though the bristling sense that the Cana­di­an West was pow­er­ful­ly strid­ing into the future emerg­ing from the late 1800s has end­ed, many of these images evoke that past per­spec­tive. Hence, in Webber’s pho­tographs, time and space are not so eas­i­ly divid­ed: the great swelling wave of the Cana­di­an attempt to con­quer the West has already crashed; the land­scape that remains is made from the swirling cur­rents of suc­cess and fail­ure, past and present.

Fig­ure 7. “Swal­well, AB” and Fig­ure 8. “Joseph Prive, For­get, SK” by George Web­ber (Prairie Goth­ic). In the pho­to­graph of Swal­well, Alber­ta, Web­ber con­trasts the last­ing promise of an abun­dant prairie, shown on the town’s wel­come sign, with the appar­ent bleak­ness of reality.

5_webberwebFig­ure 9. “Buttes and fence in Spring, 2001” by George Web­ber (Peo­ple of the Blood 91).

figure-10-scotsguard-skwebFig­ure 10. “Scots­guard, Saskatchewan” by George Web­ber (Prairie Goth­ic).

figure-11-joey-hofer-and-maria-hoferwebFig­ure 11. “Joey Hofer and Maria Hofer in the auto­mo­tive shop, Lit­tle Bow Hut­terite colony, 1999” by George Web­ber (A World With­in: Lit­tle Bow Hut­terite Colony 38).

In one impor­tant sense, Webber’s pho­tographs of the Kainai reserve in Peo­ple of the Blood are not sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from the oth­er projects he has under­tak­en to doc­u­ment the Cana­di­an West. In an inter­view, Web­ber described his spir­i­tu­al moti­va­tion for learn­ing about closed soci­eties through pho­tog­ra­phy. Raised Catholic, he was ini­tial­ly drawn to pho­tograph­ing closed soci­eties by his inter­est in the rela­tion­ship between belief and strug­gle. Reflect­ing on a pho­to­jour­nal­ist expe­ri­ence at a closed Hut­terite colony, he says he sim­ply went out “look­ing for com­mon­al­i­ty” (see Fig­ure 11). His images of Stand­off on the Kainai Reserve show the same themes of time and his­to­ry in the land­scape and offer a glimpse of the depth of char­ac­ter peo­ple devel­op through strug­gle. Yet, whether inten­tion­al or not, the over­whelm­ing pres­ence of the colo­nial past pro­vides a mea­sure of the con­text in which present-day pho­tographs are made. One pow­er­ful man­i­fes­ta­tion of the com­plex­i­ty of this rela­tion­ship emerges in an image of Lar­ry Hairy Bull, which Web­ber uses for the cov­er image of his vol­ume. As he explains, “On a rain-drenched High­way 2, I meet Lar­ry Hairy Bull and his preg­nant wife, Ber­nice White Man Left. … I offer them a lift. Lar­ry tells me he used to play gui­tar for the coun­try-rock group Stray Horse. After we arrive in Stand­off, he looks back at me and lifts his hand to mim­ic a Native head­dress” (Web­ber 16). The image shows Lar­ry in front of the town­site, a stretch of sub­ur­ban ranch homes extend­ing beyond him. The ges­ture is pow­er­ful and ambigu­ous; it plays to the notion of the Roman­ti­cized pho­to­graph­ic gaze to which Indige­nous peo­ple have been sub­ject, con­jur­ing up images of Boorne seek­ing out the “noble Red Man” of a James Fen­ni­more Coop­er nov­el. The image con­trasts the his­tor­i­cal asso­ci­a­tions between the head­dress as a more authen­tic or tra­di­tion­al aspect of Indige­nous cul­ture with the real­i­ty that Lar­ry and Ber­nice live in ranch homes on the reserve, in the shad­ow of pow­er lines and a giant water tower.

6_webberwebFig­ure 12. “Lar­ry Hairy Bull, Stand­off, 1997” by George Web­ber (Peo­ple of the Blood 18).

In this image, Web­ber lets the sub­ject nar­rate the con­text of the event, rather than struc­tur­ing it in a way that relies on pre-exist­ing tropes or the viewer’s expec­ta­tions. The inten­tion of the pho­tog­ra­ph­er recedes to a sym­pa­thet­ic por­tray­al of the sub­ject, what Web­ber describes as “gen­tle­ness with the oth­er,” rather than see­ing the man as a mech­a­nism to tell a larg­er sto­ry. Pho­tog­ra­phy is the­o­ry in action when it becomes a means for peo­ple to nego­ti­ate the con­text of both their rep­re­sen­ta­tion and place in his­to­ry. In this respect, there is both an inter­est­ing sim­i­lar­i­ty and strik­ing dif­fer­ence between Webber’s expe­ri­ence at a sun dance cer­e­mo­ny on the Kainai reserve and Boorne’s expe­ri­ence over 100 years ear­li­er. For Web­ber, his induc­tion to the dance was the result of an invi­ta­tion from a new friend whom he met on the Blood Reserve in 1997: Horace Shout­ing, who would be par­tic­i­pat­ing in an upcom­ing cer­e­mo­ny. As Web­ber explains, while the sun dance is meant to show thanks to the Cre­ator and bring strength to the com­mu­ni­ty, Shout­ing had decid­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the sun dance as a means for mov­ing past dif­fi­cul­ties he had with alco­holism and a mar­i­tal break­down. What attract­ed Web­ber to the sun dance was his empa­thy with Shouting’s posi­tion: he thought of his Catholic upbring­ing and rec­og­nized that with­in both tra­di­tions, cer­e­mo­ny could offer “val­ue or a path­way to a bet­ter life” (Web­ber, Phone Inter­view). When it came time to par­tic­i­pate in the dance, Web­ber brought his cam­era with him. Though he was grant­ed per­mis­sion to pho­to­graph before and after the cer­e­mo­ny, as he set up his equip­ment some par­tic­i­pants request­ed he stop. No expla­na­tion is offered as to why the pho­tographs can­not be made (instead, in Webber’s view, this is for the Blood alone to know), but the nar­ra­tive pro­ceeds with an account of the cer­e­mo­ny and its mean­ing, the gath­er­ing of plants and herbs, the prepa­ra­tion of the lodge, the pierc­ing of the chest and back, the fas­ten­ing of rawhide to the cen­tral pole, the danc­ing and pulling of the ropes. These strik­ing par­al­lels with ele­ments in Boorne’s account remind us that the peo­ple who prac­tice it have main­tained the cus­toms and sig­nif­i­cance of the sun dance over a long span of time. Web­ber describes Shout­ing being pierced with the rawhide lan­yards and vis­cer­al­ly recounts Shouting’s pain as he tears the leather ropes from his body. How­ev­er, the sim­i­lar­i­ty between the two exchanges ends there. While Boorne attempt­ed to claim author­i­ty and take pow­er over the mean­ing of his pho­tographs, Web­ber offers only those images made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Shout­ing: for exam­ple, stand­ing out­side the lodge after the cer­e­mo­ny with evi­dence of the pro­ceed­ings on his body (Fig­ure 13).

1_webberwebFig­ure 13. “Horace Shout­ing after com­plet­ing Sun Dance, 2000” by George Web­ber (Peo­ple of the Blood 18).

Webber’s pho­tographs, like Boorne’s, are the­o­ry in action. How­ev­er, in his case, what he pulls through his­to­ry and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is not a sense of a dras­tic break or dif­fer­ence, but his shared attempt with Shout­ing to find con­nec­tion. Both Web­ber and Shout­ing inter­pret the pic­tures they made as part of a jour­ney, not mechan­i­cal records of time or as part of some his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of West­ern Cana­da. The time and space they locate in the image is still impor­tant, but it is less a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment than a mem­o­ry device for Shout­ing to con­sid­er, which he does when Web­ber vis­its him in lat­er years (Fig­ure 1). Web­ber writes that Shout­ing had explained that he decid­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the sun dance after he had a vision: “he recounts a dream in which he saw an eagle perched on the east side of his house. The next night he had anoth­er dream in which he saw the eagle on the west side of his house. He took the dream as a sign that he must change the direc­tion of his life” (Web­ber 2006, 58). Aligned with this sto­ry, the pho­to­graph con­veys a moment of spir­i­tu­al transcendence—a reminder that such inti­mate moments of exchange coa­lesce and chal­lenge the yaw­ing his­tor­i­cal spans of time and space we asso­ciate with peri­ods akin to moder­ni­ty or geo­gra­phies such as “the West.”

Legacies of the Photographic West

Com­par­ing Boorne and Webber’s image-mak­ing prac­tices illus­trates the var­i­ous ways in which spir­i­tu­al beliefs and beliefs about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty were and still are woven into pho­tog­ra­phy in West­ern Cana­da through coor­di­na­tions of space and time. How­ev­er, a lin­ger­ing ques­tion still remains over what to do with the lega­cy of Boorne’s image-mak­ing prac­tices in soci­ety today, giv­en that the his­tor­i­cal pro­duc­tion and use of his pho­tographs was deeply suf­fused with colo­nial val­ues and pow­er rela­tion­ships (Paak­spuu).

Boorne’s sun dance images and the “tor­ture” scene are only a small frac­tion of a vast archive of images pro­duced by set­tler-colo­nial soci­ety. Many Indige­nous groups have sought to recov­er names and mean­ings of ethno­graph­ic imagery or pho­to­graph­ic records made for gov­ern­ment index­ing pur­pos­es, often work­ing with aca­d­e­mics or pub­lic insti­tu­tions (Payne and Thomas; LAC). One ini­tia­tive along these lines paired the Glen­bow Muse­um in Cal­gary, the cur­rent repos­i­to­ry of many of Boorne’s images, with Black­foot elders in order to return Indige­nous voice to the pic­tures with­in (Onci­ul 3). Anoth­er book, “Pic­tures Bring Us Mes­sages” / Sinaakssi­ik­si Aoht­si­maah­pihkookiyaawa: Pho­tographs and His­to­ries from the Kainai Nation (2006), pro­duced through exten­sive col­lab­o­ra­tion between two Euro­pean anthro­pol­o­gists and the Kainai Nation brought a set of images made in the 1920s back from Eng­land to a com­mu­ni­ty who had nev­er seen them, where they became an entry point for recov­er­ing com­mu­ni­ty her­itage (see Brown and Peers). Muse­um cura­tor and his­to­ri­an Ruth Phillips sees one way for­ward is to re-vis­it assump­tions about the pow­er rela­tion­ships inher­ent in colo­nial imagery, argu­ing that many of the seem­ing­ly stereo­typ­i­cal uses of Indige­nous dress (Fig­ure 2) also rep­re­sent self-fash­ion­ing expres­sions of iden­ti­ty (“Dress and Address”). Tak­en togeth­er these endeav­ours seek to decol­o­nize the visu­al archive of the West, dis­en­tan­gling impe­r­i­al coor­di­na­tions of space and time and return­ing Indige­nous mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance to images.

Alter­na­tive­ly, an argu­ment exists that colo­nial pho­tographs should sim­ply be destroyed, end­ing their endur­ing pow­er to make mean­ings. Such debates point to a lin­ger­ing debate on the nature of pho­to­graph­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion (Barthes): do the mate­r­i­al images phys­i­cal­ly store and con­vey the vio­lence of colo­nial­ism that pro­duced them, or are they mere­ly ephemer­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions that sym­bol­ize a world entire­ly removed from the pic­ture itself? Argu­ing these points may owe as much to the pow­er of pho­tog­ra­phy as it does to the colo­nial mythol­o­gy that Indige­nous peo­ple believed pic­tures stole their soul, or to the Vic­to­ri­an belief that pic­tures con­tained the moral embod­i­ment of the sub­ject depict­ed. Indeed, we can ask the same ques­tion of “the West”: should we now praise the decay­ing barns and emp­ty towns that fas­ci­nat­ed Web­ber as part of the end of the colo­nial era?

In this sense, what cul­tur­al imag­i­na­tions of “the West” still have to offer are much less clear than what ideas about pho­tog­ra­phy do. Webber’s work cer­tain­ly reminds us that, inas­much as late-19th cen­tu­ry pho­tographs of Indige­nous peo­ple were made and imbued with myths about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and taboos around image-mak­ing, the endur­ing belief that pho­tographs tell a moral sto­ry about the sub­ject por­trayed can be an impor­tant point of con­nec­tion and a means to under­stand dif­fer­ence as Cana­da aims to enter an era of truth-telling and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. If pho­tog­ra­phy can work in this process as the­o­ry in action, can the West as well?

Works Cited

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Boorne, William Han­son. “With the Sav­ages in the Far West.” The Cana­di­an Pho­to­graph­ic Jour­nal 2.11-12 (1893): 372-373.

Brown, Ali­son K., and Lau­ra Peers with mem­bers of the Kainai Nation. “Pic­tures Bring Us Mes­sages” / Sinaakssi­ik­si Aoht­si­maah­pihkookiyaawa: Pho­tographs and His­to­ries from the Kainai Nation. Toron­to: Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2006.

Kern, Stephen. The Cul­ture of Time and Space 1880-1918. Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1983.

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Library and Archives Cana­da (LAC), Project Nam­ing, 2015, www​.bac​-lac​.gc​.ca/​e​n​g​/​d​i​s​c​o​v​e​r​/​a​b​o​r​i​g​i​n​a​l​-​h​e​r​i​t​a​g​e​/​p​r​o​j​e​c​t​-​n​a​m​i​n​g​/​P​a​g​e​s​/​i​n​t​r​o​d​u​c​t​i​o​n​.​a​spx. Accessed 20 Aug. 2016.

Low, Col­in, Dir. Cir­cle of the Sun. The Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da, 1960. https://​www​.nfb​.ca/​f​i​l​m​/​c​i​r​c​l​e​-​o​f​-​t​h​e​-​s​un/ Accessed?

Lyman, Christo­pher M., and Edward S. Cur­tis. The Van­ish­ing Race and Oth­er Illu­sions: Pho­tographs of Indi­ans by Edward S. Cur­tis. New York: Pan­theon, 1982.

Onci­ul, Bry­ony. Muse­ums, Her­itage and Indige­nous Voice: Decol­o­niz­ing Engage­ment. New York: Rout­ledge, 2015.

Owram, Dou­glas. The Promise of Eden: The Cana­di­an Expan­sion­ist Move­ment and the Idea of the West, 1856-1900. Toron­to: Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 1980.

Paak­spuu, Kalli. “Win­ning or Los­ing the West: The Pho­to­graph­ic Act.” Bul­letin of Sci­ence Tech­nol­o­gy Soci­ety Feb­ru­ary 27.1 (2007): 48-58.

Payne, Car­ol, and Jef­frey Thomas. “Abo­rig­i­nal Inter­ven­tions into the Pho­to­graph­ic Archives: A Dia­logue between Car­ol Payne and Jef­frey Thomas.” Visu­al Resources18.2 (2002): 109-125.

Pet­ti­pas, Kather­ine. Sev­er­ing the Ties That Bind: Gov­ern­ment Repres­sion of Indige­nous Reli­gious Cer­e­monies on the Prairies. Win­nipeg: Uni­ver­si­ty of Man­i­to­ba Press, 1994.

Phillips, Ruth. B. “Mak­ing Sense out/of the Visu­al: Abo­rig­i­nal Pre­sen­ta­tions and Rep­re­sen­ta­tions in Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Cana­da.” Art His­to­ry 27.4 (2004): 593–615.

---. "Dress and Address: First Nations Self-Fash­ion­ing and the 1860 Roy­al Tour of Cana­da." The Art of Cloth­ing: A Pacif­ic Expe­ri­ence.Edit­ed by Susanne Küch­ler and Graeme Were. New York: Rout­ledge, 2014. 135-153.

Ryan, Mau­reen. “Pic­tur­ing Canada's Native Land­scape: Colo­nial Expan­sion, Nation­al Iden­ti­ty, and the Image of a "Dying Race." RACAR: revue d'art cana­di­enne / Cana­di­an Art Review 17.2 (1990): 138-149, 202.

Said, Edward W. Ori­en­tal­ism. New York: Vin­tage Books, 1979.

Sandweiss, Martha A. Print the Leg­end: Pho­tog­ra­phy and the Amer­i­can West. New Haven: Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2002.

Sil­ver­sides, Brock V. The Face Pullers: Pho­tograph­ing Native Cana­di­ans 1871-1939. Markham: Fifth House, 1994.

Tra­cht­en­berg, Alan. Clas­sic Essays on Pho­tog­ra­phy. Chica­go: Leete’s Island Books, 1980.

Web­ber, George. Phone inter­view. 13 Feb. 2016.

---. Peo­ple of the Blood: A Decade-Long Pho­to­graph­ic Jour­ney on a Cana­di­an Reserve. Markham: Fifth House Ltd, 2006.

Welch, Christi­na. "Sav­agery on Show: The Pop­u­lar Visu­al Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Native Amer­i­can Peo­ples and their Life­ways at the World’s Fairs (1851–1904) and in Buf­fa­lo Bill’s Wild West (1884–1904)." Ear­ly Pop­u­lar Visu­al Cul­ture 9.4 (2011): 337-352.

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Figure Notes

Fig­ure 1/Cover Image. “Horace Shout­ing in his liv­ing room hold­ing a pho­to­graph of him­self after com­plet­ing his Sun Dance in 2000, 2005” (Web­ber, Peo­ple of the Blood 101).

Fig­ure 2. “Mutsi­na­makan and wife, T’suu T’ina, near Cal­gary, AB, about 1885” by William Han­son Boorne (McCord Muse­um, Mon­tre­al MP-1973.49.3.21).

Fig­ure 3. “Deli­galu­ga­seit­sa – Sepistopota, Sarcee Indi­ans, Sarcee, near Cal­gary, AB, about 1885” by William Han­son Boorne (McCord Muse­um, Mon­tre­al MP-1973.49.3.39).

Fig­ure 4. “War­riors’ soci­ety, Blood sun dance, Gle­ichen, Alber­ta” in 1887 by William Han­son Boorne (Glen­bow Muse­um, Cal­gary NA-2172-5).

Fig­ure 5. “View of Cal­gary, 1889” by William Han­son Boorne (Glen­bow Muse­um, Cal­gary NA-2399-23).

Fig­ure 6. “Cana­di­an Pacif­ic Rail­way bridge over Elbow Riv­er” by William Han­son Boorne (Glen­bow Muse­um, Cal­gary NA-1753-2).

Fig­ure 7. “Swal­well, AB” and Fig­ure 8. “Joseph Prive, For­get, SK” by George Web­ber (Prairie Goth­ic). In the pho­to­graph of Swal­well, Alber­ta, Web­ber con­trasts the last­ing promise of an abun­dant prairie, shown on the town’s wel­come sign, with the appar­ent bleak­ness of reality.

Fig­ure 9. “Buttes and fence in Spring, 2001” by George Web­ber (Peo­ple of the Blood 91).

Fig­ure 10. “Scots­guard, Saskatchewan” by George Web­ber (Prairie Goth­ic).

Fig­ure 11. “Joey Hofer and Maria Hofer in the auto­mo­tive shop, Lit­tle Bow Hut­terite colony, 1999” by George Web­ber (A World With­in: Lit­tle Bow Hut­terite Colony 38).

Fig­ure 12. “Lar­ry Hairy Bull, Stand­off, 1997” by George Web­ber (Peo­ple of the Blood 18).

Fig­ure 13. “Horace Shout­ing after com­plet­ing Sun Dance, 2000” by George Web­ber (Peo­ple of the Blood 18).


[1] Fig­ure 4 shows Boorne’s pic­ture of the gen­er­al sun dance camp, not the sacred cer­e­mo­ny. Boorne was clear­ly pes­ter­ing the Blood peo­ple and admits as much in his account, but there is no indi­ca­tion as to whether the peo­ple here agreed to mak­ing this pho­to­graph. That the sub­jects of the image are lined up and look­ing at the cam­era sug­gests they were will­ing to be por­trayed or at least inter­est­ed in con­trol­ling the con­di­tions of their representation.

[2] The pho­to­graph is not repro­duced here as it was clear­ly tak­en against the wish­es of the Blood par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ceremony.

[3] A review of the time­frame shows some­thing of the impor­tance of the sun dance in cul­tur­al adap­ta­tion to the pres­sures of colo­nial­ism. Fol­low­ing the Gov­ern­ment ban in 1895 the Kainai con­tin­ued to open­ly prac­tice the cer­e­mo­ny. While it con­tin­ued to be a sacred and com­mu­nal prac­tice it also evolved to incor­po­rate new mean­ing of resis­tance to Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy. Short­ly after the pro­hi­bi­tion was lift­ed in 1951, the Kainai host­ed a Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da crew in order to film the pro­ceed­ings with the hope of pre­serv­ing their cus­toms for future gen­er­a­tions. The 1960 film Cir­cle of the Sun details how the sun dance was being used to encour­age trou­bled Blood youth to find direc­tion by get­ting back in touch with tra­di­tion­al cul­ture (Low).