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First Nations: Portraits of Dancers and Wisdom Keepers

Jeanny Tsai | NY, United States

Vernon, Navajo Nation Fort Defiance

     Indigenous Americans have largely been portrayed in unfavorable stereotypes in the media and their presence has had little visibility in education, pop culture, and politics in the US.

Currently, there are 573 federally recognized Indigenous American Nations. I estimate I have photographed individuals from over 60 nations from the US and Canada so far. I traveled to numerous intertribal gatherings around the country to meet and photograph individuals that were present to represent their lineages. The photos are a testimony to the flourishing intertribal gatherings of contemporary Indigenous Americans. This project seeks to illuminate that Indigenous Americans are retaining and evolving their heritage via elders and the young generation.

I was inspired to start this series during the time of the Standing Rock Reservation protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. As a young person going to public schools, I feel I received limited education about the history of Indigenous Americans in the United States. As I worked on my photo series, I learned more in depth about the history of Indigenous Americans from hearing the personal stories of the people I photographed. 

Jeanny Tsai is a photographer, storyteller, and lover of life who specializes in documentary, ethnographic, and portrait photography. Jeanny keeps one foot in New York City and the rest of her belongs to the World. She has a passion for photographing people and cultures worldwide that express their devotion to the divine through rituals and celebrations. She also seeks to photograph people and places that are facing environmental or social challenges that threaten established culturally rich ways of life. Some of the countries where she has photographed projects of this nature include Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nepal, and the US. She desires that her photos inspire others through beauty and convey a positive, uplifting testimony of people and places despite the existing external circumstances. She is constantly inspired by all the people she meets who greet her with openness and a desire to share their stories and lives.

She aims for her stories to create greater awareness of the social and cultural issues in diverse communities and create social change out in the world.

Jeanny is also a documentary film and television director/producer who has produced content for theatrical release, cable tv networks, and streaming platforms. She also teaches documentary film workshops with the aim for supporting students to create projects that inspire social change. 




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