Liam Sharp: First Nation’s People

Tue 19th Dec, 2017

By APA Admin in New York

APA New York recently published an edition of "Proof Sheet", their quarterly online magazine, featuring a selection of APA members who have worked on nonprofit assignments. 

Though their photography they are able to bring important awareness to the causes. 

Here is one of those profiles. Download the entire issue of Proof Sheet here:

Liam Sharp: First Nation's People


I come from a photographic family. My father was a photographer and now my daughter is a photographer in London. I started my career in Toronto and I have been shooting for over 25 years. I am currently based in NYC. Having worked under the constraints of communicating corporate messages, I started shooting for some of the top magazines in Canada. I was awarded one of the first regular photo columns in Canada’s national business magazine which I shot for over seven years. My passion has always been photographing real people with real stories. I particularly enjoy working with nonprofits that offer me full access. Being from Canada and seeing some of the early pictures of First Nations people’s and their culture. I realized the importance of documenting indigenous cultures before they disappear. This became the focus of my personal work capturing tribal peoples in Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea and in South America. 

The Plan 

I first met Cindy Blackstock in 2009 when I was asked to photograph her for the University of Toronto Annual Report. At the time, Cindy was a UT graduate and a social worker who ran The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. It is the only national organization serving and promoting the rights of Aboriginal children and families. 

Cindy told me about me about the injustices that First Nations people face in Canada. Canadians’ taxes help fund universal healthcare and education across the country, but I was shocked to hear that First Nations people living in the north on reserves were funded at 25 percent less for healthcare and education. On the spot I offered my services in helping other Canadians like myself see the true stories about the living conditions that First Nations people have on reserves – far out of public view. 

I travelled to the First Nations community of Attawapiskat, Ontario to visit the Carrier-Sekani Family Services, a branch society of the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council in British Columbia. The following summer I visited the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. 

I charged no fee and promised that I would not sell the photography. If it were licensed, any deal would go through Cindy and all fees would go directly to helping First Nations peoples. 

Even though there were different tribes from different parts of the country, the same problems existed. The tribes were restricted by the Indian Act, which meant they could live on the reserves but they couldn’t own their own land. So there was no incentive to better themselves. There were no jobs and they were dependent on government support without being able to leave their reserves because of the cost. 

The Project 

The first stop was to Attawapiskat, a Cree First Nation town on James Bay about a 1000 kilometers north of Toronto. This community is very isolated, even though they have a landing strip that only the government can afford to use. I photographed kids who were promised a new school 10 years ago by the federal government. It was a broken promise and students were schooled in portables with winter temperatures often minus-50 Celcius. I also documented overcrowded housing where sometimes more than 30 people lived in a three bedroom house. The following year, this community was declared a state of emergency because of the lack of housing in the extreme winter weather. When I went back to Attiwapskat in the summer, there were two funerals in one week and I was asked to photograph them so the families would have a record to show family who was away in prison to the south. The suicide rate in these northern communities is much higher than the rest of the country. 

The initial goal was to have a show in Toronto at Canada’s oldest bank, the Bank of Montreal headquarters. Right from the start we ran in to resistance. We wanted the exhibition title to be “Is This Our Canada?” But the funders insisted we change the name to “Caring Across Boundaries.” 

The Outcome 

I helped create a major shift in government policy towards the First Nations people of Canada through my work. In a landmark ruling in January 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the Canadian government was racially discriminating against First Nations children and their families by providing inequitable child welfare services and access to other government services available to other children in the rest of Canada. 

“Caring Across Boundaries” continues its exhibit across Canada, from small communities to the house of Parliament. It helps educate Canadians about the funding disparities and living conditions of First Nations people. 

The work is also on display in the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg and is part of a permanent exhibition at the Dutch museum for culture and science in The Hague. The initial First Nations project led to a feature in Canadian Geographic Magazine. They sent me back to the same communities to shoot for them, and I made a deal with the publisher that any licensing fees would go back to the people. 

On a personal note I believe this project made the difference in getting my green card, which requires that you demonstrate an extraordinary ability as an artist. 

instagram: liamrobertsharp 



Tue 24th Jan, 2017

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