Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association
Why Not Hamilton? //
Story by Rhéanne Chartrand
Alternate View
In 1985, a group of Indigenous image-makers came together to establish the Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association (NIIPA) shortly after the first-ever Conference of Native Indian Photography in Canada, VISIONS, held at the Photo Union Gallery located at 210 Napier Street, downtown Hamilton.

Coming Together

The Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association, as co-founder/co-director Brenda Mitten notes, came into existence in a very interesting way: “There were two Native women employed by the Photographers’ Union … working under the supervision of the Co-ordinator of the Photographer’s Union, Lynne Sharman. I [Brenda] was employed as Co-ordinator of Documentation and Research and Yvonne [Maracle] was Co-ordinator of the Native Indian Photography Program. Through our work, we realized there was a lot of photography being produced by Native people. The entire responsibility fell into our hands and with the guidance and assistance of various people.”

Photo: Co-founder/co-director Brenda Mitten posing in front of the entrance sign to NIIPA’s gallery one, 124 James Street South. Image courtesy of the archive of Brenda Mitten.


The seeds of what was to eventually become NIIPA were sown at the Photographers’ Union. The planning of the first-ever Conference of Native Indian Photography in Canada began in earnest in late 1984, spearheaded by Yvonne and Brenda, with non-Indigenous Photo Union members such as Lynne Sharman, Cees van Gemerden, Peter Karuna, Anne Milne, and others lending a helping hand. The Photographer’s Union continued to host the young organization—led by the equally youthful co-founders/co-directors, Yvonne and Brenda—in the months that followed the VISIONS conference until NIIPA moved into their own office/gallery space at 124 James Street South in February 1986.

Photo: VISIONS conference poster, designed by co-founder/co-director Yvonne Maracle. Poster courtesy of the archive of Greg Staats.

Attendees of the VISIONS conference. Photo by Cees van Gemerden.

In a 1984 letter of invitation to Rick Hill, then-manager of the Indian Art Centre, Yvonne Maracle pointed out that, “as recently as five years ago, there were virtually no Native photographers exhibiting their work in Canada … We must organize ourselves and let the photography world know that we are here to stay! We can stamp out various stereo[types] about Native people and let them see us as we really are and not as they tend to see us.”

Photo: Shelley Niro organizing paperwork in the NIIPA office. Image courtesy of the archive of Brenda Mitten.