I have the hardest time reviewing the books that touch my heart the most.
This review is going to be a little different. A little less formal. A little more like a conversation. I want to tell you why this book brought tears to my eyes, filled my heart with hope, and will stay with me forever.
I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Growing up, my school district’s mascot was a word I can’t say, because it’s a slur now. It was wrong, then, too. They changed the mascot fairly recently.
There has been a lot of progress like that in the last twenty or so years. Indigenous folks are getting to tell their own stories, their way. Shows like Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls, books from authors including Cynthia Leitich Smith, Angeline Boulley, Traci Sorell, Darcie Little Badger, and more are doing incredible work for Native representation.
But there is still an expansive archive of misrepresentation. Author Matika Wilbur shares a quote from Cherokee academic and author of Notable Native People Dr. Adrienne Keene in Project 562‘s opening, “Representation without us is representation done to us.” (Dr. Keene and Wilbur co-host a beloved podcast, All My Relations. I highly recommend it!)
So, Project 562. What is it? And why does it mean so much to me?
Project 562 was started by Matika Wilbur, a photojournalist who set out to change the narrative around what Native life is really like. This book is a selection of photos and interviews from Wilbur’s journey. It is full of wisdom, humor, heart, and broad representation. This collection captures the diversity of Indigenous lives, from babies, children, and teens to adults and elders. Girls, women, boys, men, non-binary, and two spirits are all represented. Tradish, Rez, reconnecting. Black Natives, brown Natives, light-skinned mixed heritage folks. Indian Country is a rich tapestry of Indigenous people, and Wilbur shares their stories. The result is a beautiful encapsulation of contemporary Indigenous life.
Wilbur has created a resource, a gift, a bundle of good medicine that shares Indigenous stories. It is unmatched, full of beautiful photographs of Native folks sharing their personal histories and stories. It’s a love letter to Indian Country, to Native communities, to Indigenous people across Turtle Island.
A common thread woven throughout the collection is the importance of Indigenous language. As a Cherokee language learner and strong supporter of Indigenous language preservation and revitalization, it filled my heart with hope to see this theme highlighted in these stories. In her opening note, Wilbur shares this:
Get to know us as we know ourselves. Learn to call us by our names. Say it in our language. As Marilyn Balluta says, “one word spoken is one less word lost.”Matika Wilbur, Project 562
That is the heart of this collection.
Why is this so important? Wilbur explains, “The way Native people see ourselves affects the way we treat ourselves.”
We need this representation. Our kids need this representation. I plan to keep this book out and available to my own children at all times. It’s so incredibly important for Native kids to see themselves represented positively. My kids have to fight so many battles already– misrepresentation at school, colonized history textbooks, generalized Native American stereotypes. This collection, these stories, those images– it is a gift to them. A hug. Encouraging words from kids like them, adults they can aspire to be like, elders they can admire.
All kids deserve this kind of representation. Aliheliga– I am grateful. This book is a gift to the world.
Wado, Matika Wilbur, for sharing your gift. My family, and many others, will treasure this collection. These pages will be worn, loved, cherished.
I’d like to close with a quote from the author herself. She says it best:
I’m dreaming about a modern world that doesn’t erase its Indigenous intelligence but rather embraces the rich complexity of Indigenous cultures.Matika Wilbur
You can purchase your copy of Project 562 here. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org. I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase.
Wado to NetGalley, Ten Speed Press, and author Matika Wilbur for an advanced digital copy such that I could share my honest opinions.