Dusty Wooddell & Indian images

I got this message from a photographer I know that told me about an article that Dusty Wooddell from Parker, Arizona has wrote about sovereign nations. I thought it would be interested to check out so I clicked on it. What I found was disheartening to put it lightly.

I am a photographer that travels internationally often. I am writing this from my home in the Philippines but have shot in Burma, Cambodia, Fiji, Samoa and Federated States of Micronesia to name a few places. I have dealt with some weird people with weird cultures and even weirder theological concepts.


What I was expecting to read was about when you are in some African nation or deep in the Amazon where they speared Nate Saint to death; here is some tips. That is not at all what I found.

dusty wooddell

Image Credit: Dusty Wooddell

Dusty Wooddell made a political statement

In his article, the idea of sovereign nation was the Indian reservation. It was a political statement. As I read it, I thought it would be a policy paper on the website of the Democratic National Convention more than a view of being a photographer.  It was largely political. Many Americans even openly question if reservations are really “sovereign?” The jury is out on that in my mind.

The common belief is that the Indian Reservations are set aside for them but they are still part of the United States. Dusty states that we need to be mindful of the land we stand on. The problem I see with this thinking is that it is still the soil of the United States of America. If a baby is born in the “Cherokee nation,” they are still a US Citizen born in the United States. Right?


The article uses the term “sovereign nations” over and over again like it is a one of the Rodrigo Duterte’s Anti-American rants. At the end of the day, replacing reservation with the term is over reach at best. Most are self-governing reservations. They are not sovereign nations like Japan or Norway. They do not even have a seat in the United Nations.

hard rock tulsaMy experience with Indians and photography

I used to live in Oklahoma and many tribes claim land there. Some of them for good reasons and some for less than noble reasons. The truth is some of the tribal members want to use “first nations” as a cop out for criminal activity like the growing of marijuana. It is not everyone in the Indian population doing it but it does happen often.

A friend of mine that I went to Oral Roberts University with (Go Eagles) worked for Tulsa World. He needed some images from the standoff at the casinos between the people of Tulsa and the Indians. They ran the last two photographers away with threats.


On a cool Saturday morning, I drove up to the protest with my DSLR on the black rapid and my conceal weapon on me as well just in case something did not go as planned. Indians can let emotions run high, act foolishly and later have to pay the price for the actions. Oklahoma Department of Corrections can confirm this.

In the end, I had a confrontation with one of the leader and told him very clearly I was going to do my job. He could try and stop me but I am still going to do the assignment I came to do. He said a few choose words to me and left me alone after that.

mic-o-say

Is Mic-o-say wrong then?

I am sure that Dusty Wooddell means well and he is doing what he does to protect his freedom to get images on a reservation. However, it seems from the article that he is overly political about the Indian Affairs issue in the United States.

He was very concerned about people doing shoots with head dresses that are genuine. I am sure he was dead serious but I actually was laughing when I read it.


I was, like many young boys, tapped into Mic-o-say. I ran every week around a huge bonfire weekly in a full head dress tapping new boys to join the tribe of Mic-o-say. Was that wrong? I do not believe so.

Still to this day, if I am in Missouri during the tapping season, attend the ceremony and watch the young men become braves into the tribe. I see the program as a positive thing.

indian affairs

So what am I saying?

I agree to be mindful of where you are within reason. If I am shooting on the sidelines of a football game, I would be mindful of the action of the field and what is behind me in case I need to move very quickly. The same rules would apply on an Indian reservation. Knowing where you are and what expectations you need to work under.

I just reject this idea that there is a “special set of rules” for working there and that you have left American soil. You are still in America, the Constitution is still the law of the land and you still have all your civil liberties. If you have not crossed through immigration and customs, you have not entered another sovereign nations.


Leave the political correctness to the Democrats sitting up on Capitol Hill and do your job as a photographer.

Note: I have never heard of Dusty Wooddell until a few hours ago. I am in no way making a judgement on his political or philosphical values. I am simply responding to this article from Fstoppers.com. 

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