Celebrating Our Matriarchs

Matriarchy is a social system in which women hold power—politically, morally, socially, and economically. A matriarch shapes family, holds community, and makes space for inclusion. Before colonization, the Pacific Northwest peoples thrived for millennia in matriarchal social systems.

Many Indigenous scholars and activists are calling for rematriation throughout Tribal nations. But what does that look like? In Matika Wilbur’s exhibition Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women, rematriation is explored and validated in a gallery encounter with remarkable Indigenous women who embody its values and practices.

We all know women who have inspired and influenced us, taught us, raised and cared for us, mentored and encouraged us to become better people. From the past to our shared present, matriarchal figures have an enduring importance. In honor of Wilbur’s exhibition, the Museum is hosting a community photo project in which we invite you to share a photo of a matriarch important to you.

Submissions will be accepted during March 2021 to be included in a virtual exhibition on our website beginning April 7, 2021. You can submit your photograph, along with any identification info or text that you would like to include by clicking the “Submit a Photo” button.

This project is open to everyone. For more details, see our FAQ section below. If you need a photography refresher or some inspiration, please join one, or all, of our virtual photography workshop series. Details listed below FAQs.


Can you explain the prompt more?

Inspired by Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women, we want to celebrate the matriarchs who shape us today. A matriarch may be a family member or another woman who meaningfully influences us or brings us together. She can exercise moral authority, teach us social norms, help us in hard times, or lead us into the future. A matriarch doesn’t have to be all those things, but she always has a powerful impact. We want to portray and honor these women in our lives.

Is this a contest?

No, this is a collaborative, community exhibition. Every qualified submission (see below) will be displayed as part of the virtual exhibition. One of the great things about virtual space is that there is plenty of it! The Museum reserves the right to organize photos and highlight outstanding submissions.

Are there rules?

There are a couple of simple rules. First, submissions need to align as closely as possible to the guiding prompt above—a woman who really matters in our lives. Second, the photograph needs to be taken by you. Copyright and reproduction issues prevent us from including images or work not created by you. Third, and finally, any submission should be considered appropriate for all ages. The Whatcom Museum reserves the right to reject a submission.

How do I participate?

Follow this link to our submission form to provide identifying information, if you’d like to share it. If not, we will credit your submission as Anonymous. You can upload the image as either a JPEG or PNG file. There is a text field to add context or a caption to your image. In this text field you can include the title of the work, information about the subject, or other info you would like to include. Think of this as the label that would go next to the image in a gallery. If you leave this field blank, we will credit the piece as Untitled.

How long does the form take to fill out?

The form itself should only take a few minutes to complete. Take the time needed to photograph your image and decide what text you want to provide, but please don’t miss our deadline!

What does the end result look like?

The end format for this project is a virtual gallery on our website like our Geometry and Color virtual exhibition.

Virtual Workshop Series

These workshops are part of the Museum’s month-long focus on photography. Registration for each workshop is free but required. Participants will receive an email confirmation with the Zoom login info once they sign up.

Supercharging Your Snapshots
Saturday, March 6, 2 – 3:30pm; $5 suggested donation/Members free
Registration required

We aim to take the ISO illiterate and turn them into exposure experts! As part of our month-long focus on photography, join local teaching artists Doug Banner and Ham Hayes to learn all about camera settings and functions so you can embrace your inner shutterbug! In this digital workshop we’ll explore the settings and options available on devices from smartphones to DSLRs.

Framing Your Photos
Saturday, March 13, 2 – 3:30pm; $5 suggested donation/Members free
Registration required

If a picture says a thousand words, a well-framed shot can turn those words into poetry. As part of our month-long focus on photography, this virtual workshop will cover the fundamentals of framing your shots. Photographer Jac Trautman will discuss how he sometimes bends and sometimes breaks rules in composing his images. His work is currently on view in the Lightcatcher Courtyard in the exhibit Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Young and Indigenous.

From Analog Image to Digital Masterpiece
Saturday, March 20, 2 – 3:30pm; $5 suggested donation/Members free
Registration required

This virtual workshop will teach you how to digitize and edit photos both old and new. As stewards of more than 250,000 photos in our Photo Archives, we know a few things about cleaning up photos. Join Photo Archivist Jeff Jewell as he discusses getting the most out of your photo after it’s been taken. From edits and tweaks to revitalizing decades-old images, Jeff will provide pointers in preserving your photos as well as making them pop.

Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women

Exhibition by Matika Wilbur
March 13 – June 13, 2021 | Lightcatcher building

In 2012, critically acclaimed photographer and social documentarian Matika Wilbur (Tulalip & Swinomish) sold her belongings and set out on the road to launch Project 562, a crowd-funded initiative to visit, engage, and photograph people from 562+ sovereign Tribal Nations in the United States.

Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women features 28 photographs of Native American women, along with interviews, written narratives, and an audio compilation featuring the sitters’ sharing their stories. Wilbur has selected the striking photographs from among the thousands of portraits she has taken in recent years, including a new special selection from local Tribes. Elders, activists, educators, culture-bearers, artists, and students have shared with Wilbur their realities as Native women to convey how ancestral and contemporary identities shape their hopes and dreams.