Photo Voices Article

Indigenous Youth Become Digital Storytellers Through Photo Voice Project

by Austin Josephson

Video and photography are powerful tools that can not only create art but also give youth an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

Youth were given the chance to partake in a unique project called Photo Voice.

Dr. Janice Victor and Lacey Eninew are two researchers who collaborated on this project and guided the youth through the media process and finding their voice through their work.

Dr. Janice Victor is an assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. Lacey Eninew is a Community Research Associate with Senator Miles Venne School on the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. 

“Last year we kind of went and did things a little bit differently to the context of communication media class, we worked on photography, filmmaking” says Dr. Janice Victor.

“It was to give youth tools to tell their story and so the tools that we chose were photography and filmmaking” says Lacey Eninew. “Basically it was give them technical skills and a platform to tell their story.”

Students worked alongside Metis Filmmaker Marcel Petite and did a variety of project from documentary style interviews to short video projects.

“One group did a traditional myth of the Wendigo. So that was filmed on land as well. Another did ghost story and another group they just did recreated a scene from Reservoir Dogs. So there was more of an influx of traditional and contemporary pop culture kind of stuff coming through,” says Dr. Victor.

Lacey Eninew talks about the themes of ghosts and the super natural that comes up in the student’s work.

“There sort of obsessed with the fact that the school is haunted and that the ghost that haunts the school is a girl. A little girl. So that came up in one of their films and I noticed that that came up on another occasion when they were given the opportunity to make a film with a different group of students. So that came up, this idea of ghosts and hauntings and stuff like that. For some reason that keeps on coming up when they’re allowed to choose their own topic or create something that comes up a lot.”

The students also worked with photography, creating beautiful works of art that reflected a variety of themes.

“A big theme was nature, the land. In terms of photo voice that we did, a lot of the pictures were of the lakes, of fish, of wildlife” explains Dr. Victor. So we can see that land is a traditional value really strong and very important for youth.”

Students are expressing themselves through their photographs and communicating visually what they are passionate about.

“Sports, family, conversation, nature, culture” says Lacey Eninew. “Fishing came up in one student’s photographs. She did a lot of photographs around fishing and being on her trap line. Some photographs that were taken around reserve, so places like, the places that they lived, visited most often, places that affected them.”

With any type of artwork there is a deeper significance or meaning. For the youth, that significance came from learning more about themselves.

“I think it was a way of expressing what’s kind of important to them, so I think the self expression was there because it was looking at and I can see from a youth perspective that’s affirming. It’s like this is what I find important and so they’re reaffirming that in their minds” says Dr. Janice Victor.

Lacey Eninew shares some important information on seeing the youth being empowered even though there were difficult situations and in doing so they were learning more about themselves.

They got to see where their edges are. When I talk about edge I mean that area that spot when you are doing something and get to this edge where you want to give up, where you want to quit. As an observer I saw that these moments, and they were different for everybody and everybody has a different temperament and so I could see that coming out through the project when they wanted to give up. They wanted to throw in the hat. Most of them ended up making it to the end and completing it regardless. And when it comes to working with other people, especially when one person takes the project more seriously than the other and so because of that they work harder They put in a bit more effort than the other, so they have to learn because their in this project together, there going to learn to work with each other and so I saw that coming out to, was when they were getting frustrated. Frustrated with each other because one didn’t take it as seriously or didn’t work as hard as the other. So I’d say they learned about themselves through that process.”

The youth have gained important knowledge through these activities and found new ways to express themselves artistically and realize the importance of teamwork.

“It’s really enjoyable working up there with the youth. They’re just incredibly honest in terms of what they want. So it’s really refreshing working with them says Dr. Janice Victor”

It doesn’t matter what medium you work in. It’s the time and the effort that matter when your trying to work with youth” says Lacey Eninew. “You put in the time and you work on building relationships and then the activity that you choose, the medium is just the outside layer. Where the real work happens is in that group work. The medium or the activity is not as important as the group work that happens and the relationships that you build.”