photo journal

revision: feather project

jillian rose

Happy New Year!  Thursday I made my 8th Feather Project donation to First People's Worldwide and Cultural Survival!  All donations through December 31st were matched dollar for dollar by Cultural Survival’s Board of Directors as part of their year-end fundraising.  In the past year and a half, since I began my “Feather Project”, I have been able to donate $231.01 to these two non- government organizations.  Every little bit helps :)

I've also done some thinking and have decided to make some changes to my project.  Beginning Jan 1, 2% of all sales through my Etsy site will be donated to organizations providing support for Indigenous Peoples around the world through funding and advocacy.    

ALL sales, not just feathers.  

Because it's not about the feathers, it was never about the feathers.  It's about the people, cultures, languages, and the land.  I believe that part of environmental protection is protecting the indigenous cultures that live in harmony with this earth.  I believe in equal rights no matter your skin color, the way you dress, or the language you speak.  I believe that we all have the right to decide what happens to our lands, our waters & this sky we live under.  I am increasingly pulled towards a spiritual life where nature and wellness are at the center of my circle.

At some point this year I started to feel a little uncomfortable about my Feather Project.  I felt pressured to continue making feathers even when I wasn't inspired to make them, because having no feathers in the shop meant no possibility of giving 10% to these two organizations.  Limiting my donations to only feather sales felt too confining.  It’s also possible that the name itself limited the way in which we view Indigenous Peoples, or at least didn’t aid in expanding our view.  "Feather" Project felt a bit synonymous with "Indigenous" Project, only adding to the stereotype of the stoic Indian with a feather headdress. 

When I began my project, I saw my silver feathers as a way to give back and help support Indigenous Peoples around the world.  Feathers to me were also synonymous with “freedom”, “travel”, and gaining a new “perspective”.  Living in the woods, at the edge of a nature preserve and next to a raptor sanctuary, I acquired a new appreciation for our winged neighbors, big and small.  I began to recognize their calls and to identify them by sight.  I would wake and dream to the sounds of owls that inhabited the trees above us.  I gathered their fallen feathers and started a collection, arranging them next to my workbench on a somewhat rotten window sill that held succulents from our wedding.

Even so, as I broaden my perspective of what it means to be indigenous, I am also left looking at my dreamcatcher pouches and shaking my head.  The print came from a photograph of a dreamcatcher I had made from a branch and some collected seashells.  I had a bunch of hand-made dreamcatchers hanging above our bed at the time.  Dreams and the unconscious fascinated me and continue to do so.  For years I was hunted in my dreams, always running and hiding.  Always attempting to “find” something in a semi-familiar environment that became more and more distorted as I pushed further and further ahead.  Was this dream-land mirroring waking-land?  I’m not sure, but at some point, I finally told myself that I’d just turn around next time; I’d stop running and see what I was running from.  I mean, the only way to stop recurring patterns from happening is to change things up, right?  (Even if it’s uncomfortable or confrontational.)  I never did confront what I was hiding from…or maybe I did.  The dreams went away.  

Nevertheless, I feel like I could have been a bit more imaginative in my packaging motif.  I now understand that appropriation, or using these stereotypical elements in my art is not helping, but only contributing to limited way in which Indigenous Peoples are viewed.  I realized that maybe I was plucking more feathers than I was giving.  I don’t know.  And the fact that I have Micmac ancestors doesn’t justify the appropriation, either.  My feathers were not creating perspective.  Perspective to me doesn’t mean honing in on one element (that happens to be very “in” right now), but rather the ability to see everything as a whole – the bigger picture.  Ultimately, our view of other cultures truly does have an effect on how they are treated, which can have profound global and political effects.  I began to feel like my feathers and dreamcatchers only added to the limiting “bubble” of how we view native cultures.  

With that said, the recipients of my donations continue to be Cultural Survival and First Peoples Worldwide. I encourage you to follow them on Facebook – I have learned so much from what they share.  Cultural Survival holds consultative status with the United Nations and is a nonprofit, human rights organization partnering with Indigenous Peoples to defend their lands, languages, and cultures through advocacy. They are based in Cambridge, MA. First Peoples Worldwide is an Indigenous-led organization providing funding directly to Indigenous communities all over the world through grants for local development projects. They are based in Fredericksburg, VA.  Please visit www.culturalsurvival.org & www.firstpeoples.org for more information.

Here’s to a new year and new perspectives!

xo  jillian