Photographer Aaron Huey teams up with street artist Shepard Fairey to bring an urgent part of living history to downtown LA.

I DON’T KNOW, Y’ALL, it’s hard for me to engage with Aaron Huey’s work (check the current issue of National Geographic, In the Shadow of Wounded Knee) and not feel very strong emotions.

I cannot agree more with Aaron’s conclusion that “this [genocide] is how we came to own these United States. This is the legacy of manifest destiny. Prisoners are still born into prisoner of war camps, long after the guards are gone.”

The key word here is “still.” This isn’t just a page in history but present tense. The genocide committed against the Lakota Nation, from broken treaties to the massacre at Wounded Knee, continues in a domino-effect into the Pine Ridge Reservation today.

Screenshot from Honor the Treaties

For the last seven years, Aaron has been photographing at Pine Ridge. He found, “At a certain point it wasn’t about journalism anymore; it was about giving a voice.”

In his emotive TED talk he gave this voice — the historical background of the US government’s dealings with the Lakota from the Lakota’s point of view. Beginning in 1851, he outlines how the first treaty of Fort Laramie was made, clearly marking the boundaries of the Lakota Nation and giving it status as a sovereign nation. What followed were decades of treaty violations, public executions, and eventually the massacre at Wounded Knee and the forced removal of the Lakota to “Prisoner of War Camp Number 334.”

Aaron Huey’s latest work with visual artist Shepard Fairey (creator of the iconic “HOPE” image of Obama) brings this living history to the streets of Los Angeles. Fairey notes:

The amazing thing about art is that it can hit people in the gut and affect them emotionally, and remind them that they need to be intellectually rigorous about the things that make them feel. We’re so numb to so many things because there’s so much white noise, but art can remind people that they need to care.

Please take a few minutes to watch the video above. And as a final thought, note Aaron Huey’s conclusion about his work:

“I’ve realized…that the only way that this will be really successful is if the people’s actual voice is what’s out there, not my interpretation of their voice, or my photographs. And I think the end of this project is when I can elevate the stage of the people and it’s visible enough that I can walk away and they’ll still be there telling their story…to make it known that they are still here.

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