By Matt Kok
The pictures in this collage are simple. They are pictures of faces the faces of the kids and teens I worked with on a First Nations (Native American) Reserve in Northern Ontario. Many of these photos were taken by the kids themselves.
Every once in a while they would ask to use my camera, and I would somewhat hesitantly hand it to them so they could snap some photos from their perspective.
The best thing about kids taking pictures is that they had no hesitation in getting into each others faces with the camera and snapping a photo up close and personal.
Some of the best pictures were taken by the kids as they would explore their world through the lens of a camera.
In my four months on the Reserve, one of the most frustrating and eye-opening aspects of working with the kids was their lack of respect for each other. Of course, this is not the case with every single person.
But it was a cultural phenomenon I witnessed in the adults, and watched as the kids would learn from these not-so-subtle put-downs and use them on each other.
Perhaps this attitude began in the days when the Caucasian governments attempted to assimilate the natives into their beliefs and traditions, often by denigrating the cultural values held so dear by First Nations peoples. At any rate, it is an attitude that needs to change.
This collage now hangs on the wall of The Shack, the drop-in centre on the Reserve where the kids spend most of their time.
I believe that for them to see pictures of themselves, especially photos that they have taken of each other, gives them a sense of unity.
The black and white photos are a statement that, despite their physical differences, mental differences, and differences in upbringing, the kids are all equal.
I hope for them to understand that the way they treat others is only a reflection of how they will be treated. Within the collage are a number of larger colour photos of various group pictures.
These photos are meant to represent the beauty of community, as differences are set aside and they treat each other with respect as equals.
In essence, this collage is a visual representation of the words of Christ as he quoted the second greatest commandment: to love your neighbour as yourself.
Matt used to serve as a youth minister near Vancouver, British Columbia and recently returned from the “Starbucks-free world” of northern Ontario where he was working indigenous youth.