"Outside Looking In"

Photographs by John Well-Off-Man

Artist Biography

The thirty-five 8"x10" black and white photos of the Rocky Boy Reservation were taken over a relative short period of time. They are the first photographic body of work of the Rocky Boy Reservation taken by an enrolled member of that reservation. Although John Well-Off-Man exhibits extensively as a painter and printmaker, this photo display is his first solo act as a professional photographer. John Well-Off-Man studied photography at what was then the Ohio Visual Art Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. He worked for the University of Montana Instructional Media Services as a photographer and film developer doing all their custom color printing and processing. He became an expert in archival and conservation techniques due to his years of work with the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library. Custom black and white printing is the foundation of his art.

Printmaking became an intense love-hate relationship at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He purchased an etching press to overcome that tumultuous relationship and to become the master of his own destiny. Although his work background is varied, his life is always within the realm of fine art. He taught introduction to photography at Stone Child College at Rocky Boy, a brief journey that led to his founding Images On Paper, Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes artists that create images exclusively on paper. Images On Paper, Inc. conducts watercolor, printmaking and photography workshops, and it organizes exhibits to promote artists involved with the project. Digital imagery will eventually become another aspect of the organization. Images On Paper, Inc. sponsors individual artists unable to qualify on their own as grant applicants. Images On Paper, Inc. is based at Fort Missoula, Missoula, Montana.

Artist Statement

When I am out shooting images I am constantly aware that photography is the study of light. Everything else whether they be people, animals, or automobiles, are objects in that study to help me understand the nature of light. The constant changing of light throughout the day helps me become aware of other things as well, for example, focusing in on an individual is an opportunity to study my inner instincts, the behavior of oneself is on trial for trespassing. Photography also has taught me to be objective. It is the art of staying in tune of what I am doing but not becoming emotionally involved in what is happening around me. Non- Indian people love to be photographed while some do not for personal reasons. Native peoples on the other hand may fear the presence of photographers because of cultural reasons. Where non-Indian photographers approach native peoples in a job like attitude I have to overcome my own fears before I can be objective.

The black and white images of Rocky Boy taken during spring semester of 2001 have one thing in common in that they have a special meaning in our culture. The people, the trees, and even the cattle have special meanings. The understanding of light helps to emphasize that meaning in a respectful manner. That is why there are no captions for some of these photos. I want the viewer to study how I have used light to introduce my world to the outside world. When the seasons change additional images will be inserted while some maybe replaced with newer ones. Since there are four seasons in a year images taken during those times will complete my personal study of light. When an entire collection of images have been selected for publication all images will be reprinted on fiber base paper to produce a traveling exhibit accompanied by the published images. These 35 images are the beginning of the completion of a book taken by an artist from the Rocky Boy Reservation. I am that artist introducing the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation to the outside world.

John Well-Off-Man
Artist and photographer

Rocky Boy's Reservation

Rocky Boy's Reservation differs in several respects from the other reservations in Montana. Rocky Boy is Montana's smallest reservation: it encompasses 112,572 acres, which is about the size of Flathead Lake. The reservation, located in north-central Montana, is home for the Chippewa-Cree tribe, Montana's smallest group of American Indians. About 2,676 members of more than 5,008 enrolled members live on the reservation. The initiative to establish the reservation came from the tribe's chief and not from the US government, which is unusual in US history. It was the last Indian reservation to be established in Montana.

Rocky Boy's Reservation was named after its Chippewa leader, Chief Rocky Boy. The Chippewa [Anishinabe] originated at the East coast of the United States. Around A.D. 1400 the Chippewa migrated from their original homeland on the eastern shores of North America to the Great Lakes region. According to Anishinabe oral history a prophecy was reason for this migration. Rocky Boy's people were among a number of Chippewa Indians who lived in the Great Lakes region. Some Chippewa, including Rocky Boy's Band migrated further west to the northern plains. In Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, the Chippewa split into two groups. One band migrated to Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada, and Rocky Boy's band moved to Montana.

For many years, small bands of Rocky Boy's people moved among Montana cities such as Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Havre, Choteau, and Chinook. They were often joined by groups of Cree Indians. Among them was a band of Canadian Cree under the leadership of Little Bear. Chief Rocky Boy became weary of the hand-to-mouth existence of his band. In 1915, Chief Rocky Boy and a coalition of Montana residents, including William Bole, publisher of the Great Falls Tribune, Charlie Russell and Frank Linderman, asked president Woodrow Wilson for a reservation for the landless Indians. Because Little Bear was considered a Canadian Cree, Congress would not set aside a reservation for his tribe in the United States; therefore, he joined Rocky Boy's Band. On September 7, 1916 the 64th Congress designated a tract of land, once part of the abandoned Fort Assiniboine Military Reserve, south of Havre, as a home for the Chippewa and Cree Indians.

Today the reservation is home to Chippewa, Cree, Metis, Assiniboine and other Native American peoples. Because of the reservation's ethnic diversity and its extreme isolation, a variety of cultural practices and rich cultural heritage exist; Cree, an Algonquian language, is still spoken.

Rocky Boy Agency is the tribal seat of government. The tribal office building, tribal health center, elementary school, high school, day care center, housing office, and Stone Child College are located there.

Most of the people, who live on the reservation, work for the Rocky Boy School District, the Indian Health Service and the tribal government. Some are also self-employed as farmers and ranchers. Others are employed at the casino, in one of the few convenience stores, or in the Rocky Boy propane company. Some of the biggest problems the Chippewa-Cree tribe faces today are the extreme isolation of the reservation, the high unemployment rate, alcohol and drug addiction, the small size of the reservation, a steady increase in Rocky Boy's population, as well as an insufficient water supply for all residents.

Manuela Well-Off-Man
Curator of Art/ Native American Art Specialist
The Montana Museum of Art & Culture

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