Can I Take A Picture?

As we began to learn about Native Americans here in the Southwest, photos have played a large role in our conversations about how people are represented. We often assume that photos are an acceptable way to document what is going on around us. Our Western concept of freedom of information is different from many of the ways that Native Americans think of access to information about their culture. There are some things that we, as outsiders can see and document, some things we can see but not document and some things that we cannot see at all.

Given the Mennonite background of our college, we are especially aware of the issues surrounding H. R. Voth, a Mennonite missionary who took many photos of the Hopi native people and their sacred places and rituals. Some of these photos he published in academic journals, books and in museums, without the consent of the Hopi. To this day, there are still Hopi people who are offended by what he photographed. Because of the controversy surrounding many professional and amateur anthropologist like Voth taking photos, many of the tribes have restrictions on what can be photographed or documented.

Blogs of SSTs or off-campus May term classes usually include many photos to give those back home a better idea of what the scenery, the people or the nature that surrounds the students looks like. This blog will not have photos of everything we do, because we are not allowed to take pictures at most of the locations we are visiting. We wish to respect the wishes of the native peoples with whom we are interacting and building relationships.

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