I am collaborating with the Coquille Indian Tribe of Oregon to explore the role of community photography in tribal climate change initiatives. Specifically, we intend to assess the value of community photography as a means to document and communicate tribal perspectives as they relate to a culturally significant species facing potential climate change threats.
The Tribe will select the species on which to focus the photography, as well as the tribal participants that will act as the photographers. Tribal participants will receive a set of instructions, and will have a one to three months to photograph the chosen subject matter. Participants will be encouraged to capture their understanding of the subject matter as informed by traditional knowledge. Once the photography period has concluded, participants will convene and discuss the meaning of their photographs, seeking out central themes and choosing the photographs that are most representative of the subject matter. Some of these photographs will then be presented to federal land managers and/or organizations with which the Tribe must frequently communicate regarding natural resource issues.
At the conclusion of this process, I will use surveys and interviews to capture how both the Tribe and non-tribal entities felt about the effectiveness of community photography as a tool to document and communicate tribal perspectives regarding critical resources in a climate change context. During the interviewing process, I will also inquire with the Tribe about other potential uses (if any) for community photography in tribal initiatives.
If this case study reveals that community photography is valuable in this context, this process could serve to inform other indigenous groups, communities, governments, or organizations wishing to enhance the documentation and communication of critical climate change observations and concerns. It could also serve to inform processes requiring complex intercultural communication.
The Margaret Wiese Graduate Research Award will contribute to the purchase of photographic equipment for the community photography process. After the completion of this project, this equipment will remain with the Tribe, where it can serve future tribal photography projects of various sorts.
Kirsten Vinyeta is a master's student in the Environmental Studies program and a recipient of the 2012-13 Margaret Wiese Graduate Research Award.