(Riverton, WY) Telling a photographic story of science, adventure, and culture…“World on Fire” is an exhibit that showcases the journey of five indigenous students as they experienced the road to the Mount Everest Base Camp in May 2022 as a part of CWC’s Interdisciplinary Climate Change Expedition (ICCE) Everest Expedition Team.
The exhibit opened at the CWC Robert A. Peck Art Center Gallery on February 3rd with a reception and presentation by the photographer, Antoine Day, and additional commentaries by two of the five students, Jada Antelope and Aidan Hereford, who were a part of the expedition and spoke about what the experience meant to them. Red Thunder Spoonhunter was in attendance remotely by phone.
At the presentation, Day talked about how he came to join the expedition and walked through some of the stories behind the photos. Jacki Klancher, Director of Instruction and Research at the Alpine Science Institute and faculty mentor and leader for the ICCE Everest Expedition, had approached Day to do the portrait shots, which he agreed to do. A week later, Klancher asked him if he would like to join the team.
As a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe and “meshing well with the team and getting along with them…I fit in,” Day said. “I had to ponder it for a minute or so, but of course, I said yes…it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Mount Everest…and that’s how I became a part of this team.”
A CWC alumni in several fields of study that include photography, art, criminal justice, and equine science, Day said that his love for photography first came from his father, who had his own form of art as a saddlemaker. His family had a fondness for the wild west…“the [rugged and rough] adventurous, romantic side”…he would take polaroid pictures of his father’s saddles for clients, also taking what he called “temporary forevers…temporary moments that I captured forever on pieces of photographic paper.”
Antoine’s father began to notice that he wasn’t just taking photos of the saddles when they discovered that they were starting to run out of film for their camera. “So he bought me my own camera so I could start doing photography and capture life in my own particular way…from the dirt, all the way to the sky,” he said.
“‘World on Fire’ is no different. With these photos, I hope that you will feel something. Each photo, perfect or imperfect…I use the lights and darks, general composition…even poorly in some of them. Artists are always critical of their own work, but people seem to love them.”
“To our knowledge, there has only been one American Indian student team…that has gone to the Everest Base Camp,” said Klancher. “We saw traces of their journey along the way, but this team represented the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. You see college students there often, like Stanford, Princeton and Harvard…and I dare say we are, if not one of five…perhaps the only community college to make a trip to the Everest Base Camp. So, a little different perspective on what community colleges can do.”
The expedition was part of a climate science comparison study, bridging the mountain ranges of Nepal with Wyoming’s Wind River Range, where data was gathered via portable weather monitoring devices that measure humidity and air temperature “which allows us to make headway in understanding the climate and weather-related problems we face,” Day said. “To me, preserving the people and culture in the Kunda region is similar to preserving the indigenous and Native American cultures that are facing their own form of climate change here on the reservations.”
“Satellites can provide a great deal of information, but ground truthing is critical to perform real-time weather forecasting and climate monitoring,” he continued. “In comparison, Wyoming is not dissimilar to Nepal. The 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits putting fixed weather stations in vulnerable alpine glacial hydrologic regions of the Wind River Range…there are many indigenous and local populations in Nepal that are intimately connected to the change in landscape…the need for data to inform both people and policymakers in Nepal and Wyoming’s Wind River Range is real, it’s something we are pushing forward with.”
A learning experience in traditions, culture, and beliefs…
Also on the ICCE Everest team was Eastern Shoshone student Aidan Hereford, who said that she hopes to combine social services with outdoor adventures. Before the expedition, she had been a part of CWC’s BIKES program (Broadening Inclusion Knowledge in Environmental Science) in a 1000-mile backcountry experience by the Alpine Science Institute that combines long-distance mountain biking and air quality and environmental research.
Hereford said that her experience in Nepal helped her in learning about the Hindu and Buddhist religions, visiting sacred sites, and learning about the people’s lifestyles, traditions, culture, and beliefs. “Along the way, the smell of juniper, the sound of dogs barking in the background, and the melody of the Nepali people speaking in their native tongue, accompanied the hikes,” she said. “Bells chimed as we passed sacred prayer wheels, and the sound of spinning as we spun the prayer wheels out of respect for their culture, which imprinted a place onto my memories.”
The Everest experience also helped Hereford with altitude sickness and overcoming her fear of heights. “I ate a lot of garlic soup and drank a lot of beet tea,” she said. “A significant highlight for me occurred when we started to head back down. I set off on this expedition, not just afraid of heights, but really terrified of heights…once we started to descend, I felt better and better. With each step we descended, the confidence I gained in myself increased. By the end, I was moving really well and I felt really good.”
“We accomplished many things on this expedition,” Hereford added. “From making connections with other cultures to helping test temperatures at high elevations…I am very grateful to be a part of ICCE because I overcame my fear of heights and take pride in having been hit hard with elevation sickness and getting back to being healthy.”
“Women are breaking barriers…”
Northern Arapaho Jada Antelope’s journey toward Mount Everest started several years ago, working for seven weeks for the Montana Conservation Corps in Grand Teton National Park. “I was living out of a tent, I was cooking outside, and I was doing labor work,” she said. “Mind you, I was only fifteen and the only female participant. I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying my time at work. From there on, my love for the outside grew, and therefore, my seasons grew. The time I spent living outside went from less than two months to my longest season of six months.”
Antelope went from being the only female crew member to becoming an instructor in training in Spring 2019 when she was asked to present what she had done for the conservation corps to a small group of high school teens. More than half of the crew were female.
“To me, that is success,” she said. “I brought up being the only female because in the age we live in, women are breaking barriers. Women are showing up and standing out in the best way possible.”
In October of 2019, Antelope met Klancher who had asked her to attend the Tanzania Scientific Research Expedition in Africa, and in January 2020, she spent three weeks at a high elevation, “living and traveling in a developing country,” she said. “The expedition had led me to be the first Northern Arapaho woman to reach the tallest point on the continent of Africa. Fast forward two expeditions and 800 miles on a mountain bike later, I had been asked to join CWC’s ICCE Everest.”
Antelope said that on the Everest trip, people noticed her purple hair and nice rain pants, “but I think at least part of why they noticed me was because I am not small,” she said. “I think some people see me and are surprised. Years of working for the Montana Conservation Corps have made me strong, and years of experience in the backcountry have trained me to carry my body weight and the weight of my backpack, and to pace myself super carefully. On every work hitch, expedition, and hike, I have experienced what it takes to get myself up and down a mountain. Mount Everest is the mountain; yes, it is science, it is the concerns about climate change, it is adventure, and travel, but it is also a different kind of mountain….the kind that involves helping to inspire social change and to help find a place for other Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone expedition scientists, researchers, academics and adventurers.”
“You have seen some beautiful images, and have heard tales of Antoine connecting with the culture and Aidan overcoming her fears,” Jada continued. “For me, Everest was about being a part of changing the future. I believe that strength lies in all of us. I hope that by being able to share my story, I can inspire others to seek opportunities…that there is a whole world waiting for indigenous individuals to experience, explore, learn, and enjoy. I aspire to be part of the next generation where there are many Natives outside recreating, exploring the mountains, and bringing their culture with them.”
The “World on Fire” exhibit is showing at the Robert A. Peck Art Center Gallery through Friday, February 24. For more information, contact CWC Professor of Art Nita Kehoe at 307-855-2211.