Last summer, Clark University senior Mikal Brotnov used the funding he received from the Steinbrecher Fellowship Program to travel to Seattle, Washington and Kamiah, Idaho, to research the Nez Perce Nation and to photographically document the rituals of the Nimiipuu (as the Nez Perce call themselves). Brotnov, who grew up on the Nez Perce reservation, has put those photos together into a book, “Resistance through Identity in Nimiipuu Country,” and a selection of those images will comprise a display at the University’s Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 11 Hawthorne St., Worcester, beginning April 16. The photos will remain on display until spring 2011.
Brotnov was initially interested in exploring “how personal and communal identities are formed in a post-genocidal society,” according to his exhibition notes. However, once he did his archival research on the tribe, his photographic focus changed. “Often, we, as historians, write about Native Americans as if they are extinct,” he said. “It’s easy for the public to think that Native Americans are not here.” Brotnov said that Americans don’t like to think about it, but “we became this country through displacement…. We often have amnesia about how we got to where we are today.” That includes taking land, and lives, from native tribes. Despite these great losses, however, the Nez Perce nation survives. That’s what Brotnov chose to focus on in his photographic essay: His photos of the Lookingglass Days powwow show how the nation lives on, as its traditions are passed on from the elders to the youngest members of the tribe. The exhibit at the Strassler Center features 17 images from the book, along with two maps showing the Nez Perce boundaries. The book features a larger number of photos, but far fewer than the 2,500 images Brotnov took during his research. “It’s like being asked to choose your favorite child,” he said of culling the photos for the book and exhibit, although he wanted to be sure the images he chose fit with the story he was telling. That story is intensely personal to Mikal Brotnov. “This is my home,” he said of his subject. “These are my friends. These are people I love, who mean a great deal to me.”