In 2010, the United States became the last country to pledge support to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which outlaws discrimination against members of the world’s indigenous population, estimated at 370 million.
It was an important step forward for the human rights movement, and for photographer Dana Gluckstein, it was a personal victory as well. She had partnered with Amnesty International, lobbying President Obama with thousands of letters urging him to reverse the US’s opposition to the document, and used her own art as a tool for empowerment and awareness.
“I feel that indigenous people have a voice that is one of the most profound that we can listen to as a planet,” Gluckstein says.
Now, Gluckstein continues her collaboration with Amnesty International with DIGNITY: Tribes in Translation, an exhibit of 60 images portraying intimate portraits of indigenous subjects, people who are rarely seen but whose continued existence is imperative to preserving our collective history.
The project began in her early twenties when, newly graduated from Stanford and armed with her Hasselblad camera, she began travelling the world and photographing indigenous locals in every location. Gluckstein recalls one of her first trips to Nairobi, where she found that every minute of her waking hours was spent among the people she met.
“I would come back to the camps at night. I was staying in remote places, and the other people there would say to me, ‘What did you see on safari today? What animals?’” she recalls. “And I would look at them like that was crazy! I just didn’t even think about going out on safari. I was wholly interested in people.”
Gluckstein’s passion for the preservation and protection of indigenous peoples has driven her career for the past 30 years. Now, she hopes to use her art to raise awareness again, to urge President Obama to force Indian Health Services to implement standardized sexual assault protocols on reservations. She hopes that the measure will help Native American women access the post-rape care many so desperately need. As it stands now, one in three Native women will be assaulted in their lifetimes.
“There is very important work to be done in this day and age. Our art should count for something,” Gluckstein states. “It’s not enough to be hanging in museums and private collections. It has to open hearts and minds in order for people to be inspired and take action.”
BOSTON UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY AT THE STONE GALLEY PRESENTS: DIGNITY: TRIBES IN TRANSLATION. 855 COMM AVE., BOSTON. THROUGH 3/29. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT BU.EDU/ART