Matika Wilbur has used her camera to document Native life across the United States.

Matika Wilbur altered her life to gather tribal stories, images

WHATCOM — In partnership with the Nooksack Tribe and Northwest Indian College, the Whatcom County Library System is hosting one of the nation’s leading photographers, Matika Wilbur, from the Swinomish and Tulalip peoples. Wilbur will be in Whatcom County Oct. 3–5 for four free community presentations of her ground-breaking work, “Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America.”

The project shares powerful and provoking images and stories that Wilbur has collected over the last seven years from hundreds of tribal nations including the Inupiaq in Alaska, Osage in Oklahoma, Wampanoag on Cape Cod and local tribes Lummi and Nooksack. The result is an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories portraying the dynamic, sprawling variety of contemporary Native American life and personhood.

In 2012 Wilbur sold everything in her Seattle apartment and launched Project 562, a Kickstarter-funded pursuit to visit, engage and photograph more than 500 Native American nations in the United States. (The project name arises from the number of then federally recognized tribes, which has since risen to 573, although Project 562 also represents state-recognized tribes and urban Indian communities.)

“By unveiling the true essence of contemporary Indian issues and sharing the beauty of Native cultures and the magnitude of lasting traditions, we can renew the perspective of Indian identity, exposing the tenacity and vitality of Native communities,” Wilbur says. “We can create positive indigenous role models to do justice to the richness and diversity and lived experiences of Indian Country.”

Project 562 is one of the only contemporary photographic projects of this magnitude to be completed exclusively by a Native photographer and the only large-scale effort to capture the vibrancy of current Native culture through recorded interviews and captivating portraiture. A database such as the one being compiled through Project 562 has never been achieved. Project 562 will culminate as a coffee table book, series of exhibitions and online resources.

Deming Library manager Katrina Carabba first heard about Project 562 while listening to an interview with Wilbur on National Public Radio two years ago. 

The Friends of the Deming Library helped Carabba develop community partnerships and secure funding to bring Project 562 to Whatcom County. A grant was received from the Norcliffe Foundation.

There is also cooperation with Nooksack tribal youth and education programs. A student photography project inspired by Wilbur’s work, “Nooksack Faces and Places,” will be on display at the Deming Library from Oct. 30 through Nov. 30. 

Wilbur at one time taught photography at Northwest Indian College.

There will be four free presentations of Project 562 in different venues over three days:

  • Northwest Indian College, Building 7A, 2522 Kwina Rd., from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3.
  • Ferndale Library, 2125 Main St., from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3. 
  • Mí sq’ eq’ ó Community Building, Nooksack Indian Tribe, 2515 Sulwhanon Dr., Everson, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.
  • Deming Library, 5044 Mt. Baker Hwy., from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5.

More information about Matika Wilbur and Project 562 can be found at and on Instagram @project_562.