Melanie Gray of the Rama First Nation in Ontario has won the People’s Choice Award for a photograph submitted to a national exhibition hosted by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The photo was of young girls at a powwow at Rama, which she took in 2015.
"One of my favorite things about photography is the ability to tell a story without uttering a single word," Gray said. She is a hobby photographer living in Humboldt, Sask. She returns home to Rama and attends the powwow each summer.
The award comes with a $2,000 prize which Gray has decided to donate a portion of the prize to the Friendship Inn in Saskatoon, which provides meals and services to homeless and vulnerable people, keeping enough aside for a trip home again this summer.
Gray said the story behind her award-winning photo is the resilience of Indigenous peoples and the survival of cultures threatened with eradication from colonization, including residential schools and child welfare policies.
"We weren't allowed to do this before. Potlatch was banned, powwow was banned, our culture and language was taken. So this dance is both a symbol of hope and a recognition of what has occurred."
More than 24,000 votes for the People's Choice Award were cast by visitors to the exhibition (online and in-person) between June 22, 2017 and January 7, 2018.
Gray's photo, called "The Next Generation" is among 70 images included in Points of View, one of four exhibitions presented by the museum to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
"For me, Canada 150 is not a celebration, but an opportunity to create awareness," said Gray. "It's important to acknowledge that there are people who have been here a lot longer than 150 years. Reconciliation is crucial as it's about acknowledgment, relationship building and working together to move forward with respect and with that comes healing. We all benefit from that. "
Points of View runs at the museum in Winnipeg until Feb. 4. Photographs in the exhibition can also be viewed online at https://humanrights.ca/. They were selected by a multi-disciplinary jury from almost 1,000 photographs submitted by photographers across Canada under the themes of Reconciliation, Inclusion and Diversity, Human Rights and the Environment, and Freedom of Expression, reads a press statement.