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HIgh Plains Book Awards finalist: 'Ancestors: Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada in Historic Photographs' by Sarah Carter and Inez Lightning

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Editor's note: The 16th annual High Plains Book Awards recognizes regional literary works which examine and reflect life on the High Plains, including the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Woman Writer Award honors the best book by a woman writer in any category.

The book “Ancestors” – a High Plains Book Awards finalist in the Woman Writer category – offers the reader an opportunity to engage with photographs from several tribal groups, with explanatory texts, based on an exhibit from the University of Alberta Bruce Peel Special Collections.

According to the curators, the central purposes are the potential for photos to carry information and memory, permit reconnection with ancestors, focus on the pride of descendants and community members, and document and preserve information for future generations. Although the authors say the focus is on people in the photographs, not the photographers, there is value in the substantial information on the photographers, contexts in which they worked, and subsequent uses made of the pictures.

There are photos of individuals, families, ceremonies, social occasions, tipis and camps, clothing, headdresses, hair styles and other adornments and regalia, cradleboards, travois, and tourism-related events, powwows, fairs, and other gatherings. An important aspect of research involved comments from elders and community discussions, during which people, places, events, and details were recognized and remembered, including how significant people, gender, and political events are represented.

An overriding perspective comes from the Blackfoot language, iikokan, which means “story from the pictures.” There is use of Indigenous language including tribal/subtribe and personal names.

The authors’ extensive documentation puts photographs into the context of activities which supported the 19th century colonial narrative. In addition, they criticize inaccuracies in original captions, later reprints, and versions in newspaper articles that imply that Indians were vanishing.

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As exhibition-based, the outstanding selections and commentary are presented as individual pictures and topics, with little narrative to tie them together chronologically or thematically.

The exhibit and book are inspirational university museum endeavors and will stimulate ongoing work with Indigenous topics and persons.

C. Adrian Heidenreich, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Native American Studies/Anthropology, Montana State University Billings. Adopted Crow (Apsáalooke), named Dúxxiia-dée-ítche

(Goes to War in a Good Way) to recognize cultural advocacy and diplomacy.

You are Invited – October 8! 

Book Sale and Author Panels – 11 AM – 5 PM – Billings Public Library

Award Presentations – MSU Billings Petro Theatre 7:30 PM – no charge


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