Two photographs by North West River photographer and journalist Ossie Michelin have been chosen to be displayed in the new Points of View exhibition at The Canadian Museum For Human Rights, opening on June 23rd.
A jury’s selection of best photo in four themed categories, best photo by a youth, and best overall photo will be announced on June 22nd. Visitors to the museum and to the online gallery will be able to vote on a “People’s Choice” award with a cash prize.
“The two pictures of mine that were chosen were actually taken three years and three days apart. One October 17th 2013 and the other October 20th 2016, and they’re both photos of Indigenous women at demonstrations defending their water,” Michelin explained.
Michelin took the earlier photo while working as a reporter for APTN, covering the Elsipotog First Nation’s resistance to fracking in New Brunswick. The photo shows Amanda Polchies kneeling in front of a row of riot police holding up a feather.
“There were 40 arrests that day, there were rubber bullets … barking police dogs, snipers, cops dressed in camo,” Michelin said, “During it all I was the only reporter on scene for a number of hours and I just started snapping pictures and tweeting, reporting on everything that was happening and that was one of the pictures.”
Later Michelin learned the photo had been re-tweeted hundreds of thousands of times within in hours of it going up online. Since then the photo has become a symbol of indigenous resistance in Canada; it has been printed in a number of publications including several university textbooks.
The second photo of Michelin’s chosen for the exhibit was taken last fall when he travelled home to Labrador to take part in the Indigenous resistance to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. The picture shows 13-year-old Allyson Gear of Happy Valley Goose Bay performing a traditional drum dance in front of a busload of construction workers enroute to the dam site, halting the bus in its tracks.
“These two pictures are sort of like each other’s twin in a way because one was taken at night and one was taken in the day. They have a similar composition and they are similar circumstances but they also are very different. When you put the two of them side by side I think they compliment each other really well,” Michelin said.
For Michelin the fact that these photos will be displayed in The Canadian Museum For Human Rights is evidence that companies like Nalcor (which is responsible for the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric dam) and SWN (which is responsible for fracking in New Brunswick) are on the wrong side of history.
“I want people to know that they should celebrate the bravery of both the women in these pictures but also know that they’re just normal people. Alison is a 13-year-old student; she goes to high school and Amanda is a young mother; she has baby number two on the way,” Michelin said.
“They’re just regular people standing up for their homes and someday you might be in that position too, so just be careful and try to support these folks.”