A picture of young girls claiming their culture through pow wow dancing has won the People's Choice Award in a national exhibition of crowd-sourced photographs at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR).
"One of my favorite things about photography is the ability to tell a story without uttering a single word," said Melanie Gray, a hobby photographer from Humboldt, Saskatchewan who took the shot in 2015 at her home community on the Rama First Nation in Ontario. She returns to the pow wow each summer.
As an Ojibway woman, Gray sees the story behind her award-winning photo as the resilience of Indigenous peoples and the survival of cultures threatened with eradication from colonization, residential schools and child welfare policies. "We weren't allowed to do this before. Potlatch was banned, pow wow was banned, our culture and language was taken. So this dance is both a symbol of hope and a recognition of what has occurred."
More than 24,000 votes for the People's Choice Award were cast by visitors to the exhibition (online and in-person) between June 22, 2017 and January 7, 2018. Gray's photo, called "The Next Generation" is among 70 images included in Points of View, one of four exhibitions presented by the CMHR to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
"For me, Canada 150 is not a celebration, but an opportunity to create awareness," said Gray. "It's important to acknowledge that there are people who have been here a lot longer than 150 years. Reconciliation is crucial as it's about acknowledgment, relationship building and working together to move forward with respect and with that comes healing. We all benefit from that."
Gray said she will donate a portion of her $2,000 award to the The Friendship Inn in Saskatoon, which provides meals and services to homeless and vulnerable people.
Points of View runs at the museum in Winnipeg until February 4. Photographs in the exhibition can also be viewed online. They were selected by a multi-disciplinary jury from almost 1,000 photographs submitted by photographers across Canada under the themes of Reconciliation, Inclusion and Diversity, Human Rights and the Environment, and Freedom of Expression.
A high-resolution version of Gray's photograph is available for media use upon request.