Native American Portrait Series - Michael Brenton Morrison
Recently I had the honor of getting to go up to the Mt. Juliet Pow Wow, thanks to Cindy Yahola and Holly Johnson. We were able to setup a booth to do portraits of some of the dancers for the Native American Portrait Series that I've been working on. The series is based off breaking down some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about what a lot of people think of Native Americans in our society today. At my studio shoots for this series, I take photos of people in both their regalia and their everyday clothes. Many of this country's First Nations people walk around everyday and you might not even know. At the Pow Wow, it was said that it's like walking in two worlds for Indigenous People today. One world is our culture and tradition, and the second is modern society. It's learning to walk in both with balance that is key.
One of the dancers that I got to photograph and talk with is Michael Brenton Morrison. I first heard of Michael from my buddy, Wes Collins. Wes had many praises about Michael both as a Traditional Men's Dancer, but also in the respect and honor he has seen from him towards Cherokee culture.
Ricky - What nation do you belong?
Michael - My family belongs to the Eastern Band Cherokee nation
Ricky - Does your dancing hold personal meaning for you? Does it hold personal significance to you in dancing traditional?
Michael - Dancing to me means that I can get out there and dance for those who danced before me, those who cannot dance, and of course those who give me the right to dance. But most importantly I dance for the creator and that he may always blesses me with the strength of a warrior to carry on thousands of years of tradition.
Ricky - That is a beautiful answer. I've heard different answers but I've heard some older dancers really talk highly of your dancing and doing it for good reasons.
Michael - Really now? That's enlightening. I try to dance the old way and not let the modern contemporary ways get to me.
Ricky - Yes sir. It shows man! What has life been like growing up Native in this culture in America.
Michael - To be honest, growing up Native in this American culture hasn't been easy at times, especially due to racial bigotry and stereotypical questions. At times people would ask me do I live in a tipi or do I get free things from the government. My answer is always No.
Then there's always the "you aren't native. You're just a 6 foot Mexican." Which cracks me up
Ricky - How have you handled being faced with some of the racial issues you've had, especially with being younger and how would you try to explain to people who may be reading this that think race isn't an issue anymore?
Michael - I listen to the stories that my mother and father told me from when they were younger and the stories they tell me is truly saddening because when they were growing up it was a bad thing to be native. Now in my generation everybody wants to be native. The issues I've dealt with are nowhere near as bad as my parents.
Ricky - Very true. The stories from even the last 30 to 40 years ago are horrible. It blows my mind how humans can treat other humans in such ways. I had thought things had improved greatly until some of things that happened last year at Standing Rock. What were your views about what happened there?
Michael - Hmm that's an odd situation there to be honest. Some of the family was up there and it was blown put of proportion. That land was theirs that was part of the agreement yet lies and deceit over rules again. However, with that being said. I feel that media made it worse. I blew into something that should not have happened.
Ricky - In which way do you think that it got overblown? From the things that were happening to people or about the things the dam was saying the water protectors were doing or all of it?
Michael - Well people fall for greed and become a lover of things as in the Choctaw language a "Nanihullo" And when that happens life become in danger sometimes even destroyed. For what though? When we cross over we cannot carry those things. That is what i mean when i say things become overblown too fast.
Ricky - Awesome, I just wanted to make sure it was clear. You serve in our military correct? What branch of service?
Michael - US Army
Ricky - Thank you for your service man! There is a long relationship with Native men serving in the armed forces. What led you to enlist?
Michael - Well for starters from the time i was 6 years old I wanted in the United States Military. I knew that I was warrior, and that I wanted to earn the right to be called one. I have a long history of family being in the Military.
Ricky - What are your feelings with the protests during the Anthem?
Michael - Man, men and women have fought and died for our rights, man will say oh that's our 1st amendment but I don't care. Show respect for those who died for their right to be an idiot. It truly annoys me. People do it because they think its cool. Its not cool at all.
Ricky - I can definitely respect that man. What are some things you wish people knew about being Native. You mentioned that you get asked stereotypical questions a lot. What are some things you'd like folks to know about Natives in our culture today.
Michael - Haha. I'd tell people that we don't live in tipis, we don't scalp people. I'm not an alcoholic, I don't even drink at all. We also don't worship a buffalo either.
Ricky - It's crazy, so many just assume each tribe basically lived the same ways. If someone is wanting to legitimately learn more about Native culture, what ways would you suggest they learn? How can they be respectful and not come across how so many do?
Michael - Instead of assuming answers, just ask questions and we will answer them. Of course be respectful but also don't be afraid to ask.
Ricky - Very cool man. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of this project again. I appreciate it!
Michael - You're welcome!
A little note on the photos - The B&W work that I'm doing on this series is done with Kodak Tri X film. My goal was to do the series completely in film only, but at Mt Juliet I also did a number of digital shots as well, and I really want to add a little of that color in as well.