National Geographic Photo Camp

Twenty years ago—or even ten years ago—if someone suggested that the National Geographic Society would send professional photographers to Wallowa County to put on a workshop in photography and photojournalism for local and tribal young people, we’d not have believed it. But they did, and for the last week the Society’s crew of staff and students traveled the length of the valley, “connected by water,” taking pictures.

National Geographic Photo Camp teaches young people from under-resourced communities how to use photography to tell their own stories, explore the world around them, and develop deep connections with others. The Society provides the tools needed and includes world-class National Geographic Explorers and photographers as mentors to provide students with a personalized, immersive learning experience.

There was a reception and showing on an August Sunday night at the Josephy Center. Local photographer Kendrick Moholt had mounted some of the student work, and the Society’s staff produced a slide show with more photos documenting the week-long Photo Camp. A smiling crowd of over 80 parents, grandparents, friends and supporters watched and listened as National Geographic program manager Jess Elfadl and her crew gushed about the students, presented them with fancy, National Geographic diplomas, and posed with them for pictures.

According to the Society’s photo editor, the students took 20,000 photos. Students were not allowed long lenses; they were to “engage” their subjects. They engaged with water and fish, the hail-dappled houses and cars in Wallowa, and with each other.

That, to me, was the most heartening thing. Local young people, and adults for that matter, have little chance to actually engage with Native neighbors. We wave at the Nimiipuu in the Chief Joseph Days parade, watch them dance and drum at Tamkaliks, and watch the Nixyaawii girls and boys basketball teams from the Umatilla Reservation mostly beat our local high school teams. But there is little opportunity to meet tribal members from the Umatilla Reservation, from the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, from Yakima, Colville, and Warm Springs.

That’s changing, with the powwows, with root-digging, Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland programs and longhouse services. There’s a new and exciting “side-channel” project with Nez Perce Fisheries at Homeland, which is bringing fish, foul, and small critters back to land cut through decades ago to free land for the plow and water to flow fast. Slow down, it says, and look at what land and water give us. And look what tribal knowledge and working together can give us.

That, to me, was the most exciting thing about Saturday night, seeing young tribal people mix, laugh, and take brown and white pictures with friends they’d only just met in a land and on waters their great-great grandparents had known as home.

Thanks to all, with a special note to Clark Shimeall, who rowed a group of tribal kids and adults last year with Winding Waters that was arranged by Nez Perce Homeland, and was inspired to launch a new non-profit. It’s called “Pandion…, an organization that facilitates sustained outdoor experiential education with a focus on Indigenous values, voices, and leadership.” Clark made the connections with Society that made Photo Camp happen.

The student work—the results of Pandion’s collaboration with the Nez Perce Homeland and National Geographic Society—was on display in the balcony gallery at the Josephy Center until September 9.

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