Amber Bracken at Lac Ste Anne, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Joey Podlubney
Profile: Cover Photographer
Showcasing Indigenous Resistance and Resilience in North America
By Daniela Cohen
Amber Bracken decided to become a photographer at age 15 after rejecting the office jobs proposed by an aptitude test as too boring. Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, Bracken enjoyed sketching and painting but struggled to complete pieces, so photography was appealing as an art form she could finish faster. Her simultaneous choice to pursue photojournalism stemmed from the intersection of her passion for creativity and doing good in the world.
Bracken has since adjusted her aspirations to the reality of working for change in this context. “If you’re talking about social change, it’s slow, it’s difficult, and it requires investment,” she says. “It very rarely is do this and you’ll get that – like if you share your migration story, we’ll open all the borders.”
A substantial focus of her work has been on Indigenous communities. This grew out of a long-term project with Indigenous youth who are living with intergenerational trauma. The experience led her on a learning journey.
“I see so clearly now that it’s not an issue only in Indigenous communities. It’s an issue of contemporary society, those unaddressed colonial impacts,” says Bracken. “We are really looking at a shared history.”
In 2015, Bracken first visited the Unist’ot’en Camp of the Wet’suwet’en people in northern British Columbia, Canada, resisting the development of their land by a pipeline company, where she saw the same historical pattern of Indigenous people being criminalized for such resistance.
News coverage in the Canadian media also highlighted the ongoing issue of Indigenous consultation versus consent.
“I’m always thinking about how authorities say one thing, like, we’re going to consult with you, but ultimately we are going to build it no matter what you say,” says Bracken.
In Canada, she witnessed “a lonely fight” with small groups and sparse resources, so seeing 4,000 people standing in solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in September 2016 was monumental.
Bracken captured the cover photo of this issue of ZEKE during a blizzard when war veterans came to the camp to show their support. Seeing the Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk) flag, which has come to be a significant symbol of Indigenous resistance, was profoundly symbolic.
“The Canadian American border is not particularly meaningful in terms of the experience of Indigenous people in North America,” said Bracken. “The people are much more closely related to one another than the boundaries that we put between them …. The foundational impacts of colonization really do echo across the border.”
Although Bracken’s work includes documenting the militarized force that continues to be used against Indigenous land defenders, she hopes people will take time to discover the “reconnection to the land, community and culture” that occurred at Standing Rock, and learn about “the rich cultures around us as well as our shared colonial history.”
As a descendant of Danish settlers to Canada, Bracken is clear that documentation cannot be the end goal. “I’m wrestling with how to look at this colonial history from a new perspective, that truly acknowledges the impacts for both colonizer and colonized. And asks, what are some of the paths to repairing some of the harms in both directions?”