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Monday, June 25, 2012

Hobbema students use photos to shape perspectives about their community

A young boy sits in the snow gazing out to the horizon as the sun settles warmly over a big sky prairie landscape. It is a shot that communicates a feeling of calm and hope for the future.
The image is just one of a collection of photos captured by junior high students from Meskanahk Ka Nipa Wit School on the Montana First Nation, at Hobbema south of Edmonton. The photos have been published in a 28-page book, called Photo ID – Snapshots of Identity and funded through Enbridge's School Plus Program.

Students at the Meskanahk Ka Nipa Wit School are using photos to articulate their thoughts about themselves and their community.
"The students are using the photos to articulate their thoughts about themselves and their community," says Sandi Hiemer, the project coordinator and a guidance counsellor at the Cree culture-focused school, which has more than 140 students from kindergarten to Grade 9. "The photos remind me that young people have a lot to say, and we should never underestimate them."

The 16 members of the school's Bookmaker Club spent part of every Wednesday over the last eight months working on the book. Hiemer says the students were initially asked to capture images representing how they see themselves and their place in the world. They came back with thousands of photos that show friendships, school, sports and families.

"For the students, it always came back to the people around them," says Hiemer. "They place their family  and their community pretty much at the top of importance. It's who they go to for support, and who has high hopes for them." 

Hiemer says the students hope the book, which combines photos and quotes, will send a positive, affirmative message about their community.  A book launch and exhibit of the students' photographs took place May 25 at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton.

It's the second time the club has produced a book. A previous photography book  – Can You See Me? – was published in 2010.

"Our first book was really a response to some of the past negative media coverage around our community," says Hiemer of the book, which featured vibrant images of their culture and the local landscape. "The students used photos to show a different side and help broaden the perspective of how people can see their community."

The Edmonton Journal gave front page coverage to the first book, and the story was picked up by the national media, including the CBC and APTN National News.  Copies of the book sold across the country.