Portrait Project Challenges Aboriginal Stereotypes

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Celestine Many Bears has been called a "dumb Indian." She certainly is not, and in fact, is a grandmother, teacher, Blackfoot-language instructor, and all-star basketball player.

The Blackfoot Kainai woman is one of the models in a thought-provoking art project called "Perception: Lethbridge." The portrait series by artist K.C. Adams challenges certain perceptions of First Nations, Inuit or Metis members of the southern Alberta community.

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Celestine Many Bears is one of the subjects of K.C. Adams' latest portrait project. (Photo: K.C. Adams)

In each photo set, models were asked to think of a racial slur they've been called. Then, they were asked how they label themselves.

“The great part of the project is it doesn’t point fingers. It doesn’t accuse people of racism. It’s showing the human side of these models,” Adams told the Lethbridge Herald.

Another model for the series is Alvin Small Legs. When he was a teen, he moved from the Blood Reserve to Lethbridge, where he said he has often been the target of racism.

“Every time I go around, people would say, ‘Look, there’s an Indian. There is another drug addict,'” Small Legs told Global News.

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Alvin Small Legs' portrait for "Perception: Lethbridge." (Photo: K.C. Adams)

While Small Legs struggled with addiction when he was younger, he's now sober and is a proud husband and father. He told Global that he participated in the project because he wants people to see him how he sees himself.

Lethbridge is the second city Adams has brought her project to — she started in her hometown of Winnipeg in 2014. She hopes to bring it to other cities across Canada.

"I'd love to see this plastered all over Parliament Hill," she told the Winnipeg Free Press.

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