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From Burmese to German: Matika Wilbur Makes New Yorkers Guess Who’s Indigenous

Photographer Matika Wilbur had 100 New Yorkers guess the heritage of indigenous people standing in Columbus Circle for this sweet video.
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Burmese. Hispanic. Brazilian.

These are just some of the guesses that New Yorkers have for the ethnic origin of indigenous people who posed for educational purposes on Columbus Circle in a video posted on Columbus Day. The impromptu quiz was engineered by Matika Wilbur, famous for her ongoing photo essay Project 562, which aims to change the way that people see Native America.

RELATED: Photographer Matika Wilbur's Three-Year, 562-Tribe Adventure

“Where does history begin?” Wilbur wrote in the video’s YouTube notes. “New York’s infamous Columbus Circle memorializes the founding of a new world and perpetuates the myth of American exceptionalism, while denying the violence against indigenous people—a will to ignorance.”

To counteract that will to ignorance, she pulled together a crew of American Indians, including Indian Country Today Media Network’s own Simon Moya-Smith, to poll more than 100 New Yorkers about where they thought the Native models hailed from. The goal, she noted, was to attempt “to understand where contemporary Native lives exist in popular consciousness.”

One guy guesses Native American, but only after German, even though the Cree-Métis woman behind him was clothed in regalia.

“Obviously she’s wearing Native American clothing, but I didn’t think she was Native American,” he says. “This will sound crass, but really my knowledge of Native American history is that basically we came here, then we basically killed most of them, or put them on reservations, and now they run casinos.”

Other guesses: Asiatalian (whatever that is), South American and Mayan.

“I didn’t know America HAD indigenous,” says one guy.

One woman actually guesses indigenous, but clearly has an in.

“I’m Pamunkey, from Virginia,” she informs us.

Then there’s the inevitable, “I possibly have some of that in my family,” from another man. He is mercifully cut off before he can reference a Cherokee princess.

Says the woman who guessed Brazilian (mainly because the woman closely resembles a Brazilian friend of hers), “You know what? We’re all the same.”

Wilbur proves that by encouraging everyone to “hug it out.”

“This is the first Native American person I’ve hugged,” says the guy who guessed German, smiling broadly.

RELATED: 10 Remarkable Portraits of Native America from Project 562

“Let us begin to write and speak a healing narrative that honors Native people, let us get to know each other, let us hug each other—you can and should #HugANative today,” Wilbur says in her intro.

Between the hugs and the music by Frank Waln, it might even bring a tear to your eye.