Though most of the 2.5 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives live outside reservations, about 1 million Natives from 567 federally recognized tribes live on 326 reservations.

With a generous grant from Sony, one of three grants awarded to TPS members, I spent part of summer 2017 inside 17 of these reservations, sacred lands and associated border areas of the American west, driving 6000 miles through several states, from my childhood home in Washington State to my house in Los Angeles. I aimed to photograph the intersection of Native culture and the rest of American society and to capture the complexities of the landscape, representative of both tribal success as well as the many issues facing the tribes.

I sometimes found little difference between reservation land and the rest of the United States, as reservations are generally checkerboarded with regards to ownership and jurisdiction. Some land is tribal, other land might be county, state or federal. Often a reservation includes non-native mostly white populations who, due to economic status, generally inhabit the best and most valuable land. But reservations in general are often the best and most fertile land in a region, or even the homeland of a particular tribe, but an assigned location granted through American congressional and executive order. Still, there are areas where the cultural landscape is intact, such as with sacred sites.

Murals in the border towns beside the reservations often depict Natives meeting white men dressed as military or settlers. The meetings always appear peaceful, as if the genocidal history never existed, a form of American propaganda designed to keep the two communities at peace. Natives live hard lives on these islands within American society, but leaving can sometimes be worse – like leaving ones country.

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About the author

Michael Christopher Brown was raised in the Skagit Valley, a farming community in Washington State. His recent work, Libya, was exhibited in March at the MIT Center for International Studies and will be in the group exhibition War/Photography: Image of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath, opening later this year at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Annenberg Space for Photography, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Over a six-month period in 2011, Brown documented the face of battle in Libya using a camera phone, challenging the standard script for war reportage. Brown forms a series that moves beyond documentary realism and across the distinction between art and journalism, exploring ethical distance and the iconography of warfare.

His previous work, Xiasi (2010), or Reverie, a two-part series produced during train and road trips in China, presents solitary figures seemingly removed from the world’s most populous country. The images are as much a study of Chinese identity as a reflection of Brown’s nomadic experience. In Broadway (2009), he examines American identity through its’ archetypes, found along the famous New York thoroughfare and amidst a global financial crisis. Sakhalin (2008) depicts an enigmatic wintry atmosphere of the remote Russian island, long scarred from the Soviet era and left behind in modern times.

He recently exhibited work at the Instituto Cervantes, New York (2011) and the Steven Kasher Gallery, New York (2010). In 2012 he was a finalist for the Oskar Barnack Award and in 2011 he was a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography as well as a finalist for the Emerging Photographer Award (Burn Magazine / Magnum Foundation) for the third year in a row. A graduate of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University (M.A. 2003), his photographs have been featured in numerous publications and broadcasts, including PBS, NPR, Time, Newsweek, Geo, Foam, The New York Times and The Atlantic. Brown has worked as a contributing photographer at National Geographic Magazine since 2005.

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