Overview by Shanti Zaid
This photo archive includes collections of images shared by members and partners of Red Thunder and we are grateful for their generosity.
The first collection of albums documents activities of the Red Thunder Cultural Retreat in July 2016, in which planning for the Red Thunder Oral History Project website began. Participants held a sweat lodge ceremony and erected a teepee to consecrate the sharing and documenting of oral history about Red Thunder’s environmental activism during the 1990s. Retreat members recorded current images and footage of areas in and around the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation, including the Zortman and Landusky mining towns where much of the area’s environmental destruction began. Remains of the environmental damage to the Little Rocky Mountains were visible during a hike through the mostly inactive Landusky mining site. Other images reveal how several Native American historical landmark signs have been erected along the road to the Landusky mine, making sacred and ancestral ties to the land more transparent to residents, visitors, and potential opportunists who might allege the land is unclaimed. Retreat participants later met in Havre to continue documenting oral history among original Red thunder organizers and group photos are included as attendees celebrated.
The community and supporter photo albums, compiled from a variety of sources, represent a beginning collection of what will become a larger repository of images related to Red Thunder's work and tribal history in the region. Unfortunately, much of Red Thunder's original archival collection of images and documents were lost to a flood, but research is active to uncover more materials from private and public collections.
The album, Indian Tears of Love, features highlights from the premiere screening of the documentary film in Boulder, CO. After that, two albums feature still shots pulled from the Indian Tears of Love documentary film. Photos of participants intimate wide participation among women and men, and an active inclusion of children and elders' contributions. Images reveal the integration of sacred activities that strengthen a collective and loving relationship to the land as another important dimension of the work that characterized Red Thunder's approach to environmental activism.
In addition to community photos taken in Montana and Colorado during the 1990s grassroots organizing to protect the land and water around Ft. Belknap, the final collection of albums include early images of Ft. Belknap’s Gros Ventre and Assiniboine community from the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries are also included and offer a sense of the tribes’ historical presence around the reservation area. These latter images in the archival albums reveal earlier generations’ ceremonial practices, such as the Grass Dance, which preceded current Pow Wows, and important figures such as Assiniboine Chief Toktay-Naunga, dubbed “Chief Nosey” by US officials for consistently questioning the intentions of federal government representatives in political negotiations.