Because of a reporting error, a profile of Walnut Creek photographer Susan Reynolds gave an incorrect website. The correct address is www.susanreynoldsphotography.com.
In the photo, Vietnam veteran Joe Bear wears a stoic face and a POW/MIA baseball cap as he carries a staff of eagle feathers during a powwow at Montana's Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Like any good photo, this one has at least one good story to tell. Walnut Creek photographer Sue Reynolds is happy to share what she knows.
For the past eight years, she has photographed scores of ceremonies at reservations throughout the western and Plains states. About 40 of those images are now collected in her new book, "Still Here: Not Living in Tipis," and on exhibit at the PhotoCentral gallery in Hayward through Jan. 12.
Reynolds' purpose is to share visual narratives of contemporary Native Americans whose presence, she believes, remains largely unknown to mainstream America.
"I give a lot of slide shows and talks to community groups," she said. "Before I do that, I ask my Native American friends, 'What is the single most important thing you want non-native people to know?'"
The No. 1 response, she said, inspired the title of her book: "Tell them we're still here."
Reynolds' photos show men dancing in swirls of feathers and drumming in circles, children dressing in traditional and headdresses, and descendents of Chief Joseph's Nez Perce enjoying a friendship feast with white neighbors in eastern Oregon.
Then there are people like Bear, whose personal histories, Reynolds explained, reveal truths about contemporary Indian life.
Bear joined the army before his 18th birthday, Reynolds said. Then, as now, his reservation, just east of the jagged peaks of Glacier National Park, offered few opportunities for its young people. Joe is proud of his service, as are many Native Americans -- a fact that may surprise those remotely acquainted with the history: how the U.S. government waged war on Indians until the late 1800s, moved them onto reservations and forced them to abandon their culture and languages.
As a veteran, Bear gets the honor of carrying what is considered the flag of Indian country during the powwow. Eagles are considered sacred, Reynolds said: "Because eagles fly the highest of any bird, they are believed to carry the peoples' prayers to the creator."
Reynolds' photos earned her a commendation in November from U.S. Congressman George Miller. He praised her for illustrating the resilience of the Native American people.
Reynolds never thought she'd become a cultural ambassador. Growing up in Berkeley, she was interested in Indian culture but learned little from her public school curriculum. She dutifully built a sugar-cube replica of the Carmel Mission in fourth grade and listened to her father's admiring stories about his soldier grandfather who fought in the Modoc Indian war of 1872.
Meanwhile, she took up photography in high school and studied art history at UC Davis. But wanting to make money, she embarked on a hard-charging marketing career that consumed her for the next 25 years.
Reynolds started to re-evaluate her life in 2005, around the time her mother and other relatives died. A three-month course at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana lured her back into fine arts photography and sent her to her first powwow at the nearby Flathead Reservation.
She felt an immediate affinity with her hosts. She liked the emphasis on "slowing down and returning to more traditional values" and became determined to help heal past injustices and modern prejudice.
For up to six weeks each summer, she travels to powwows and sun dances across several states. She has photographed members the Crow, Lakota, Salish Kootenai and other tribes, and some have become like family.
One friend is poet Victor Charlo from the Flathead Reservation, whose words, evoking his land's eternal beauty, are published in Reynolds' book. Charlo appreciates how Reynolds took the time to win people's trust and chronicle their lives. "We have to get this out anyway we can," he said.
Reynolds' next project may focus on Native people in Northern California. She wants to continue to show how Indian culture and history is America's heritage. "Let us all remember how we're all related," she said.
Who: Sue Reynolds
Book: "Still Here: Not Living in Tipis" (www.suereynoldsphotography.com, $68)
Exhibit: "Still Here: The Native American Celebrations Photographs of Sue Reynolds" and "Kay Franke's Silver Gelatin Powwow Prints" are on exhibit at PhotoCentral through Jan. 12. Reynolds will give a gallery talk Jan. 12, 2 to 5 p.m., at PhotoCentral, 1099 E. St., Hayward, 510-881-6721, www.photocentral.org.