Tuscarora artist and scholar Jolene Rickard called for art historians to recognize the visualization of multiple systems of governance in studies which employ “indigenous methodology”. The Art historian’s ability to “synthesize between multiple worldviews ” is indeed crucial in revisiting the role of images (in Rickard’s case, photographs) as a powerful tool of colonization. Demonstrating this, Rickard’s aesthetic and political intervention in her essay lies in showing us a way out of the jarring conversations regarding visual sovereignty by questioning first of all what it means to attach the term “visual” to “sovereignty”. In giving the example of the Wampum belts, Rickard reminds us that previous scholars have often been found lacking in accounting for the other sensorial and performative aspects attached to the artifact and of treaty making. Wampum belts were part and parcel of a historically complex method of diplomacy which is honored to this day. According to Rickard, the meanings of such objects often elude standard interpretation. The involvement of an active and competent human interpreter to understand the Wampum belts dovetails with Rickard’s argument that visual sovereignty for the American Indian is always embodied and concrete.
In this light, I reflect on the role of the art historian as channeling the role of that Wampum Belt interpreter who is able to decode the meaning of objects and speak for various factions in specific historical conflicts. Visual sovereignty as a method emphasizes the image as a “site of active resistance.” The Wampum belts illustrate how visual sovereignty is produced by destabilizing the hegemonic status of legal precepts. Art historians are in the position to reclaim the past on indigenous terms and this shift in itself becomes empowering. This is why visual sovereignty is both a method of art history and art making: it actively challenges official photography and the silencing effect of official public history.
Rickard’s scholarship on Wampum Belts can be thought of as a model to appreciate the work of scholars and artists from First Peoples movements. The collection of these works can be thought of as “counter-archives”. For instance, Amy Lonetree wrote about her powerful encounter with images taken by Charles Van Schaickof of her ancestors just a few short years after what she describes as, “the darkest, most devastating period” for the Ho-Chunk, whose historic territory includes parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Invasion, disease, warfare, forced assimilation, dispossession, and repeated forced removals from their ancestral land left the Ho-Chunk people in a fight for their culture and their lives. The startling collection examined by Lonetree was taken primarily as family memorabilia serves as one of the few “visual proof of presence” of her people. This propels her reclamation of Ho-Chunk history as a story of “kinship, place, and memory, as well as ongoing colonialism.”
Lonetree reminds us that it wasn’t just a matter of survival but of survivance, defined by Anishinaabe scholar Gerald Vizenor as “an active repudiation of dominance, tragedy, and victimry”. The term interlocks neatly with the notion of visual sovereignty: both serve the Ho-chunk and indigenous peoples project of actively challenging dominant historiography. For instance, Lonetree recalls her grandfather’s insistence that their existence as families is enough testament to the strength and endurance of the people. Along with the counter-archive of private photographs, their own stories belie the oppressive minimization or erasure of the realities of this history. It particularly pokes a hole in “the benign language of ‘removal period’” to describe the historical events happening when such photographs were taken.
I see Hulleah Tshinhnahjinnie’s practice of visual sovereignty in art historical study —of being “divorced from its fixation on the effects of colonization”—as a counterpoint to Marx’s notion of history. In the Eighteenth Brumaire, Karl Marx wrote: “Men make their own history, but they [do so] under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” The Ho-Chunk’s project of creating visual proof of their people’s presence instantiates Marx’s description of how “the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Tshinhnahjinnie argues that rather than perpetuating settler-colonial logic we must be unburdened from it. Visual sovereignty is an act of reclaiming territory and cultural spaces. She defines visual sovereignty as grounded in “shared visions of an Aboriginal/Indigenous past, present, and future” that actively assert sovereignty, understood as “an unrecognized claim to land”. This form of sovereignty is furthermore concerned with “peripheries dialoguing amongst one another rather than speaking to or reacting against centers of symbolic power.” In addition to creating new images, visual sovereignty also serves as a lens to re-engage with past images and photographs using techniques such as naming, establishing familial ties, and the inclusion of imagery that does not conform to the colonizer’s demand that visible indicators of Native identity (i.e., traditional dress, hairstyle, etc.) must be indexed in photographs of Native Americans. For Rickard, photographs anchored or froze Indigenous peoples in a “primitive” past and confirmed the “civilizing” project” of the native American boarding school. Strathman’s monograph on the photographs from such boarding schools shows us how some Indigenous photographers foiled that, and we learn of strategies in building counter-archives to challenge the stiff and evolutionistic depiction of indigenous peoples in colonial imagery.
Both Strathman and Lonetree’s encounters with photographs from the archives of Charles Van Schaick’s works and Parker McKenzie’s collected snapshots from the Rainy Mountain and Phoenix Indian Schools recast these images as sites of Native “survivance” and resistance. Their affective engagements echo Tina Campt’s disruptive reading of photographs that redirects the viewer’s gaze from the perspective of the “observer” to the observed. In particular, Strathman’s reading of fugitivity and resistance in the snapshot of Nettie Odlety and Parker McKenzie resonates with the affective reading of “fugitivity” by Campt as a representation of survival within images from the Breakwater albums. In addition to framing the photographs as markers of survivance, Lonetree and Stratham discuss these images as indicative of continuing presence that is able to bridge the past and present. This temporal continuance and presence defines an active and sovereign archive that is not beholden to the demands or limitations of a white, colonizing gaze.
The stirring scholarship on indigenous American photography provides a useful framework for recent studies on the American-occupied Philippines such as those by Juan Fernandez, Christopher Capozzola and Vicente Rafael, who dubbed America’s imperial forays as “colonialism in the time of mechanical reproduction”. Rickard’s argument on how“photography helped to construct Indigenous land as vacant and contributed to an unlawful and violent dispossession into the 20th century,” can be extended into this field. 
Disconcerting “before and after” images of reformed American Indians were similarly employed in a number of colonial archives produced by the US government in their colonies (see fig. 1). The “forced assimilation” of the American Indian into Anglo-American society, can be revisited in relation to the policy of “benevolent assimilation” in American occupied-Philippines. Western-style formal education was similarly used as an instrument of subjugation. In Stratham’s work, photographs of the indigenous in Western clothing supposedly showed the righteousness of colonial order. Secreted in the images are the lived experiences of the subjects recoiling from the encounter and seeking their tribal identity. Native American students took the camera into their own hands and subverted the western gaze. This is illustrated in the uneasiness of the stranger’s pose that the subject of a portrait assumes when photographed by someone unfamiliar. Rather than following the archival principle of colonial provenance, reflecting the bureaucratic agencies that created records, the counter-archive of indigenous peoples are organized by family and tribe and decluttered from colonial labellings. Rickard’s point that “sovereignty is the border that shifts indigenous experience from a victimized stance to a strategic one” is enlightening in this regard.
From these examples from Lonetree and Strathman, we learn that visual sovereignty involves drawing attention to historical acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide buried underneath the images of colonial order. At the same time, both scholars echo Tsinhnahjinnie in stating that the goal of visual sovereignty is not to win outsider recognition, but rather to dismantle its privileged position.”
Rickard, Jolene. “Art, Visual Sovereignty, and Pushing Perceptions.”
Lonetree, Amy, “Visualizing Native Survivance Encounters with My Ho-Chunk Ancestors in the Family Photographs of Charles Van Schaick,” in Lonetree with Tom Jones, Michael Schmudlach, Matthew Daniel Mason and George A. Greendeer, People of the Big Voice: Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879-1942. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2011. 13-22
Strathman, Nicole, “Student Snapshots: An Alternative Approach to the Visual History of American Indian Boarding Schools,” Humanities, 2015, 4, 741; doi:10.3390/h4040726
Tsinhnahjinnie, H.J.; “Visual Sovereignty: A Continuous Aboriginal/Indigenous Landscape”, in Diversity and Dialogue, Eiteljorg Museum, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 15-23.
Paul Chaat Smith, N. Scott Momaday, Theresa Harlan, Zig Jackson, James Luna, Jolene Rickard, Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Luci Tapahonso, Larry McNeil, and et al. Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices. Edited by Peggy Roalf. New York: Aperture, 1995.
 Rickard, “Art, Visual Sovereignty, Pushing Perceptions,” p. 24.
 Ibid. p. 20.
 Richard W. Hill, Sr., Nation to Nation, p. 42.
 Rickard, op cit., p. 28
 Amy Lonetree, “Visualizing Native Survivance Encounters with My Ho-Chunk Ancestors in the Family Photographs of Charles Van Schaick,” in Lonetree with Tom Jones, Michael Schmudlach, Matthew Daniel Mason and George A. Greendeer, People of the Big Voice: Photographs of HoChunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879-1942. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2011. (14) 13-22
 Ibid., p. 14-18
 Ibid., p. 22
 Ibid., p.14
 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852
 Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, “Visual Sovereignty: A Continuous Aboriginal/Indigenous Landscape,”
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Ibid. p.16.
 Nicole Strathman, “Student Snapshots: An Alternative Approach to the Visual History of American Indian Boarding Schools,” 729, 732-733, 735.
 Rickard, op cit., 24.
 Strathman, “Student Snapshots,” 736, and Amy Lonetree, “Visualizing Native Survivance” Encounters with My Ho-Chunk Ancestors in the Family Photographs of Charles Van Schaick,” p.14.
 Strathman, “Student Snapshots,” p. 736.
 Tina Campt, “Haptic Temporalities,” p. 96.
 Lonetree, “Visualizing Native Survivance,” p. 20.
 Strathman, “Student Snapshots,” p. 743.
 Geoffrey Batchen, “Ere the Substance Fade,”32, and Glenn Willumson, “Making Meaning,” 68.
 Juan Fernandez,”‘From Savages to Soldiers’: The Visual Transformation of the Igorot Headhunter in Dean C. Worcester’s Philippine Photographs.” Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints. (Forthcoming.)
 Christopher Capozzola, Photography & Power in the Colonial Philippines (1898-1902), MIT, https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/photography_and_power/dw01_essay01.pdf.
 Vicente L. Rafael. White Love and Other Events in Filipino History. Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.
 Strathman, op cit., p. 727-728
 Ibid., p. 741
 Ibid., p. 743
 Paul Chaat Smith, N. Scott Momaday, Theresa Harlan, Zig Jackson, James Luna, Jolene Rickard, Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Luci Tapahonso, Larry McNeil, and et al. Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices. Edited by Peggy Roalf. New York: Aperture, 1995., p. 51. qtd. in Nicole Strathman, “Student Snapshots: An Alternative Approach to the Visual History of American Indian Boarding Schools”
 Tsinhnahjinnie, op cit., p. 15, 16; Lonetree, op cit., p. 15, 22; Strathman, op cit.,p. 733