Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle, Sahan Journal

Very often when I am out on a photo assignment, someone will tell me how much they support what we do at Sahan Journal. I never quite know what to say. “Thank you” doesn’t feel like enough. 

When I was little I used to dream about being a photojournalist. I didn’t fully realize what that meant until this past year and a half working for Sahan Journal through Report For America. Coming back to Minnesota and being able to photograph our communities has been a privilege of my lifetime. It’s an immense treasure for me to be present and visualize these stories. These are a few of my images that have stuck with me throughout the year. I hope that my work has brought inspiration, encouragement, and insight to our audience, as well. 

One: Dolal Idd and another police killing

A child holding a sign that says “Justice for Dolal Idd” on Cedar Avenue, in Minneapolis. The graffiti behind him reads “Mama, I can’t breathe”–George Floyd’s last words before he was killed by Minneapolis Police, seven months earlier and a few blocks away. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle

I was returning with my partner from a vacation visiting family in D.C. at the very end of 2020, when driving through rural Wisconsin we heard a vague radio report of an “officer related shooting” in Minneapolis. After what I had witnessed in 2020, I didn’t know  if I was quite ready  for what I was about to experience. When I arrived home I actually was supposed to have another few days off, but I called my editors and let them know I was home and available if needed.

I spent the next day following Mukthar Ibrahim, our executive director and founding editor, throughout the Twin Cities as he awaited an interview with Bayle Gelle, the father of  Dolal Idd. Dolal Idd was killed by police in that shooting.  On the first day of 2021, I sat alongside reporters and Dolal’s family as they recounted a police raid on their home after Dolal Idd had been killed.

A few days later in a march through the city blocks near the gas station where the shooting happened, I noticed a child running with a sign. I had also noticed the street art of George Floyd’s last words. I waited for the child to run past. I wanted to show that the wounds of the city were still fresh, but that another police killing had just happened.

There is something about the urgency and innocence of kids at rallies that tugs at me. I often wonder how they will remember this time. 

Two: The COVID vaccine rollout

Mohamed Beshir prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Axis Medical Center on February 2, 2021. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

This is probably one of the most-used photographs on our website.  Although I was hesitant to put it for that very reason, it’s important because this was such an uncertain time in all of our lives. The COVID-19 vaccine had just become available, but it wasn’t accessible to all just yet. This was the first time I had seen it  in person.

Now I’ve had the vaccine and the booster. I remember watching as Mohamed Beshir handled it so carefully and prepped it for community members coming into the clinic. As we all navigate our ways through the pandemic, this is an awe-inspiring  moment I will long remember. 

Three: Immigrant vaccine seekers run into barriers

Terecita Ascension says a Cub Foods clerk wouldn’t vaccine her because she didn’t have a U.S.-issued ID. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Very often I hear people speak about the “rules” of photography. I firmly believe that  they should be broken, often.  An old professor of mine told me to never take a portrait with your subject backlit by the sun. I almost feel like because I was told that, I do it. Often. 

When I arrived at Terecita’s, this is exactly how I met her. She was waiting for me in her parking lot. The late winter sun blazing through her red hair, she was very urgently telling me what happened to her.  When I took her portrait I immediately knew this was the image; to me it felt like it captured her frustration but highlighted who she is in a respectful way.

Even though I knew I had the portrait, I sat with her for a while and discussed many things. She showed me the ofrenda in her home and talked about her home country. 

Four: Danza Azteca

Mary Anne Quiroz performs traditional Azteca Danza outside of the Hennepin County Court House on day 1 of the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on March 8, 2021. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Recently, this photograph was chosen as one of the top 100 photographs of 2021 at Women’s Photograph. During this past year and a half, something I noticed is that dancers are almost always present at rallies and protests.

The day started with Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli offering a prayer through dance. The sun shone through the buildings downtown in a way that highlighted the smoke. 

Five: The Derek Chauvin verdict

Toussaint Morrison announces the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin to waiting crowds at the courthouse. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Outside of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, hundreds gathered to hear the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial. Toussaint Morrison announced the guilty verdict through a bullhorn to a cheering crowd. The media present were sent into a flurry–photographs were taken, tweets sent, and stories posted.

I remember this moment being a controlled chaos, I was completely boxed in, and couldn’t move. I had to navigate so many things while photographing Toussaint and the pressure of this moment was immense.

Six: George Floyd Anniversary

On the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, Sam Ero-Phillips, Christie Owens, and Mack the Barber set up an altar space called “Haircuts for Change” at the intersection of Chicago and Lake in south Minneapolis. Designed by Ero-Phillips in collaboration with Owens and Barebones Puppet Theatre, the pop-up was meant to function as “an interactive memorial,” Ero-Phillips said. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

I knew that my colleague was going to be covering George Floyd Square for the day so I felt solid in our coverage there. I drove through the city to see if there were any other happenings, and I came upon Sam and his children setting up their pop-up memorial. Christie Owens was burning sage. It was a few blocks away from George Floyd Square on Lake and Chicago.

Many people were curious about what was going on. While there were many great images made that day, I’m thankful I came upon this smaller memorial. Sometimes I get a bit intimidated and don’t like to be in the “photographers pit”: This was the perfect happenstance for me that day.

Seven: Daunte Wright protests

Protesters call for justice in Brooklyn Center after an officer shot and killed Daunte Wright. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

After the killing of Daunte Wright, our newsroom was all hands on deck. Sahan Journal’s team worked diligently on a resource guide for how to  help the residents of Brooklyn Center. This was one of the proudest moments I had working at Sahan Journal. Starting with the first night, I documented happenings at the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

While I have a photograph of this man raising his fist, I always choose this photograph instead. There’s something about it that resonates more deeply to the moment. 

Eight: Winston Smith protests

The family of Winston Smith held a candlelit vigil at the site of Smith’s death in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, joined by the group Visual Black Justice. Smith, 32, was killed June 3 by law enforcement in a parking ramp. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Very often while photographing difficult situations I tend to hyperfocus on details of the current situation. During this vigil there were many emotions but the ones  that stuck out to me was vulnerability and strength. This photograph of a raised fist holding a flower stayed with me through this year. 

Nine: Moe Kayongo and Northside Boxing Club

Mohammed “Moe” Kayongo helps lace up Garret Neal’s boxing gloves on August 21, 2021. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

A sign reading “House Rules, Respect: Yourself, Your Peers, Your Coaches, This Gym, This Neighborhood” greets you as you enter the Northside Boxing Club. I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph Mohammad “Moe” Nayango in a training session with Garrett Neal. My grandfather, Hobart Lonehill,  was a boxer through much of his youth. He was inducted into South Dakota Hall of Fame for his boxing achievements.

I remember when we went to South Dakota to visit him, he would put us through mini training sessions, having us chew bubble gum to strengthen our jaws and running as fast and as far as we could. Photographing Garrett’s training session brought back memories of jumping rope and practicing our air punches. 

Moe greeted the neighborhood kids and offered them popsicles. They were happy not only to see him, but to just be around the gym. I could see the positivity he brings to the neighborhood. He called every kid “Champ” and their beaming smiles showed their appreciation for him. 

Ten: Indigenous People’s Day ceremony in St. Paul

Lower Phalen Creek Project, a Native-led conservation nonprofit, commemorated Indigenous People’s Day with a land recognition ceremony at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in St. Paul. The event celebrated the first phase of construction on the Wakáŋ Tipi Center, a Dakota-led cultural and environmental interpretive center and featured performances by Indigenous dancers. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Christopher LeGarde and Isabel Lopez share a laugh during the Indigenous People’s Day ceremony this past fall. This event was filled with smiles and laughter, and I was lucky to capture this as it took only a few brief moments. I think it fully encapsulates the event.

Within the Indigenous community, laughter and humor are so apparent and yet in photography featuring Indigenous folks, it’s almost never featured. Showcasing communities in all of their  diversity is such an important part of what I do. 

Jaida Grey Eagle is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe originally from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. She is a photojournalist, producer, beadwork artist, and writer. She is a member of the Women’s...