Google "Asian Americans," "Latin Americans" or just plain "Americans," and you'll see images of people you might meet on any given day: a barista, a neighbor, a coworker. But Google "Native Americans," and you'll see men in headdresses on horseback, typically from previous centuries.

Such underrepresentation—plus alarmingly high substance abuse, suicide and school dropout rates among Native American youth—led Matika Wilbur in 2012, then a high school teacher, to sell most of her possessions and hit the road. The goal: to photograph members of all 566 federally recognized tribes. "I aim to humanize Native Americans," says Wilbur, 31, who is of the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes in Washington. "We're not a vanishing race that you can see only in outdated images. There are so many vibrant communities, and I want to depict them in a real way."

So far, Wilbur has visited roughly 300 tribes, snapping black-and-white photos that elegantly blend the ancestral and the modern. She's captured subjects of all ages and backgrounds, from a Turtle Mountain Chippewa professor to a Sicangu Lakota recording artist to a group of Navajo "walkers" in New Mexico who protest fracking on foot.

Wilbur hopes to complete her mission by 2016, after which her portraits will be published as a multivolume art book and featured in a touring exhibition. "Everywhere I've gone across the country, people have put me up in their homes and shared their stories. Will my efforts change the image of Native America overnight? No. But in the meantime, we're breaking down stereotypes and renewing a legacy."

To see more of Wilbur's work, go to


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