In Mike’s post on he brought up the conflict one can experience in cultural tourism. He was prompted to write down his thoughts after visiting the Tiwi Islands in Australia. In the photo essay and interview in the New York Times, “Behind the Scenes and Still Wounded” Aaron Huey, who found himself drawn into the terrible beauty of the Lakota tribe of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, Huey alludes to similar ideas.
It is impossible for people to develop an accurate impression of a culture in one visit.
Huey has spent the past five years photographing the Lakota who live in Manderson, one of Pine Ridge’s most impoverished towns. This process that has developed friendships that are as close as family and an understanding of the Lakota that few have been able to attain. But, even then, Huey’s experience has not brought him any closer to knowing the answer, “‘Who are the Lakota?'”
As he writes: In many ways, I feel like it is not my question to answer. The Lakota are a people who have been wronged many times over. Coming from the dominant society and attempting to define them is a guaranteed failure for a white journalist. I have no right to define them.
Huey’s photos and essay, along with Mike’s musings, are a reminder that as we travel, we’re merely picking up tidbits of what a place is about.
What I think happens is that as we travel, we’re mostly finding out about who we are by looking through a lens of the “other.” If we arrive back home with a better understanding of who we are through our interactions and experiences, we’ve done well. To really know a place and what a particular culture is about takes years–and even then, it may not make us an expert.
Reading the interview with Huey and looking at the images he captured in Manderson is one place to start on a journey of trying to understand the complexities of the Lakota. It certainly gives an insight into Huey.
(The Hamner Photos image was taken on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Click here for more of them. From what I can tell, they were taken as part of a work camp to build houses on the reservation, just a Band-aid to the poverty problem, according to Huey.)