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The University of Michigan was funded by and founded on Anishinaabeg (including Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi) lands ceded in coercive historical treaties and through the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, most notably through the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs.

The William L. Clements Library at U-M acknowledges that it has and continues to benefit from the original land dispossession and established hierarchies of settler colonialism. We acknowledge that the sources used on this project often do not represent the wills of Indigenous peoples; that many of the photographs representing Native Americans were used for commercial purposes that didn’t benefit the subjects of the photos; and that the photos were often part of a larger power dynamic that ultimately resulted in Native land dispossession and forced removal. 

In addition, we acknowledge that the collecting and purchasing of photographs of Native Americans, even if done in the context of a publicly accessible institutions, keeps the ownership of these objects in the hands of our institution, as opposed to living ancestors or specific tribes, and thus perpetuates some facets of settler colonialism. As one means of mitigating this, the individuals collaborating on this project worked to build reciprocal relationships with tribal members and sought insight, comment, and feedback throughout the project. We also aim to hold ourselves more accountable by viewing the Clements as the current custodian, not gate keeper, of these objects containing Indigenous intellectual property and by removing barriers to access to these materials. 

Finally, this exhibit is thematically rooted in questions of consent, agency, myth-making, and representation. We hope that this exhibit shows the production and circulation of images of Native Americans as one vital piece in a larger, ongoing battle over sovereignty and recognition. We implore you to join us in investigating the lasting relationship between the medium of photography and the legacy of American Indian representation and ask yourselves: what does it mean to be part of a new audience consuming these photographs? In doing so, we hope that you, like us, will recognize both the legacy of overwhelming oppression inherently meshed with the creation of these materials as well as the resilience of the complex cultures and unique individuals.