Kiliii Yuyan is an indigenous photographer (Nanai) whose work is dedicated to Native cultures and wilderness conservation. He is a former wilderness guide and continues to teach the traditional skill of Native kayak-building. He works on documentary projects that tell the stories of the voiceless– people and wilderness.
Kiliii’s work has been awarded by Communication Arts and Sony World Photo. He is a public speaker on issues of wilderness, and Native peoples. His clients include REI and The Nature Conservancy; he is currently at work on a multi-year project on indigenous whaling. Kiliii spends the majority of his time above the Arctic Circle or on the ocean at the edges of our wild world.
I am a descendant of the Han Chinese and the indigenous Nanai/Hezhe people of Siberia. I grew up in the US at a distance from my culture’s traditions, but remained connected through my Nanai grandmother. Her stories fueled a desire to reclaim my indigenous identity by learning to live close to the natural world.
I have spent the last 20 years exploring the traditional skills of Nanai and other Native cultures, including wilderness subsistence and traditional kayak-building. These skills have instilled in me patience and an ability to overcome discomfort—from long weeks of quietly watching the sea for whales, to the adrenaline of defending camp from hungry polar bears, to staving off dread while riding out storms in a kayak. These are the experiences I share with people who live close to the land.
Five years ago, I began documenting the stories of modern indigenous peoples around the world. My work has taken me from urban communities to remote villages in the Arctic. Through long-term immersion, I’ve gained the perspective and empathy required to be welcomed into peoples’ lives and homes. Their gift to me has been the ability to see the land through indigenous eyes.
The indigenous perspective of land and wildlife is rooted in the skilled observations of generations, and informed by modern science. In recent decades, scientists, in turn, have begun to pay closer attention to this perspective.
As our modern needs make increasing demands on the land and its resources, indigenous knowledge is evermore important to understanding ecology. These communities have balanced competing human needs with the preservation of wildlife for thousands of years. There’s an urgency to cultural collaboration—each day, indigenous cultures come under threat from loss of language, identity, land, and hunting rights. As we lose their stories, we lose the knowledge that gives all human beings a chance to shape a future on this amazing planet.