Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
BEMIDJI, Minnesota — For some people, a talent or ability seems to be baked into their DNA; we call them natural-born. Nedahness Rose Greene, citizen of the Leech Band of Ojibwe, is such a one, a natural-born photographer or shooter.
Greene wasn’t aware of her talent, however, until about five years ago.
A single mother, she was living in North Dakota, watching her now-seven-year-old twins as well as her sister’s children. Beyond caring for the children, she had little to divert her interests. One day, she picked up her sister’s iPad and began taking photos of the children and the world around her. Casually, she posted some of the images online.
“Everybody asked, “Hey, who’s your photographer?’” Greene said.
Greene got excited. She began shooting more portraits, and was overwhelmed by the encouragement she received online. Her family bought her an inexpensive digital camera, and her interest grew.
Now, five years later, Greene not only shoots portraits but has covered water protector actions along Enbridge Line 3 in Minnesota for the Indigenous Environmental Network, George Floyd protests, Black Lives Matter marches and events calling attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.
In January, her photos were featured in an exhibit, “Mashkawiziigag,” (“They are Strong,”), at the Watermark Art Center in Bemidji, including portraits, her MMIW work, water protectors and Black Lives Matter rallies.
The photos are currently on display at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji, and she can barely keep up with customer requests for her services.
“I’m not somebody who likes to talk in front of people but I have a lot of personal thoughts and ideas about issues,” she said. “I’d rather use my photography to convey my message.”
Eager to learn
Social justice issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women hold special, emotional meaning for the 41-year-old Greene.
She created a series of portraits and images for her “healing circle shoot,” in which she put out a call on social media asking women to participate in the project. Greene set up shoots at various locations throughout Minnesota at places where women tend to go missing, such as railroad tracks, rivers and parks. At least 50 women showed up.
“I would say 90 percent of the women were either victims of assault or activists,” she said.
Greene’s images are bold and graphic. Free of excess visual information, her work strikes at the heart with unwavering accuracy.
Asked if she could have imagined such success back in her iPad days, Greene says, “No, at first, I didn’t really take it too seriously.”
Shortly after she received the digital camera from her family, she joined a local photography club in northeast Minneapolis. Comprised mostly of older Black men, club members were impressed by her eagerness to learn.
“I think they were surprised I wanted to come hang out with a bunch of old guys at a photo studio,” Greene said.
Soon the men took her under wing, encouraging her to join them on photo shoots and advising her on the technical aspects of photography. Before long, club members pitched in and bought her some equipment, and one of the photographers gifted her his old camera.
“It was old, but it was new to me, a real professional’s camera; I started taking photography more seriously,” she said.
Greene demurs when asked technical questions about her work. She insists she “plays around until it’s right.”
Her father’s teachings
In early 2020, just as Greene’s career was set to take off, she had several projects lined up with prominent non-profit organizations. Then the pandemic hit, putting nearly everything on hold.
Greene struggles to make a living with her camera these days shooting portraits and taking on assignments as long as they aren’t too far from Leech Lake. One of her son is special needs, so traveling for work is especially challenging. Finding the right person to care for them is difficult.
“I’d like to travel more but my kids come first,” she said.
One day, Greene hopes to secure funding to allow her to take her children along on photo shoots.
“I want to go to as many other reservations as possible. If we had a travel van, the kids and I could camp,” she said. “I should write a grant but I’m too busy trying to pay the bills right now.”
Until then, Greene keeps her camera close and her eyes on the light, always waiting for the perfect moment.
For inspiration she often thinks of the teachings her father shared.
“He always taught me to respect the water spirit and protect our people and our natural resources,” she said. “I think that’s what my work shows.”
Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 contribution today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.