Colville | Fergus Thomas & Duane Hall | Granta


Allen: Did Fergus race, when he was there?

Hall: No, I don’t think that he got the chance. But I think that he was more into his photographs over anything. And that was his biggest concern – getting a good picture.


Allen: What was it like having him there?

Hall: It was interesting when he first got there. At first, it was kind of like we were babysitters. Katherine brought this 21-year-old young man and handed him to myself and the jockey of the team at that time and said, ‘Protect him, take care of him, don’t let anything happen to him.’ And we were party animals back then, like superbad. And I told Fergus, ‘Well, if you like to drink and run around, let’s go.’ And he survived the first night, so I figured, well, this is going to be a long weekend.

And he was respectful enough that he wouldn’t take a picture without asking. And that’s what really gained my trust, and other people’s trust around him. Because, at first we were like – wait, we’re here in Pendleton, Oregon, racing horses at a big Pendleton roundup, partying and running around and whatever. So at first we thought, if he takes the wrong picture, we’re going to get in trouble. If he takes the right photo, we’re going to get a pat on the back. And he explained a lot to us about what his intentions were so we decided, ‘Yeah, go ahead, take as many as you want.’

He was going to stay in Pendleton. But the weekend after the Pendleton roundup, we had our horse races up here at the county fair. And so, myself and Louis Zacherle invited him up, and he stayed the rest of his three-month visa and in that three months, between Louis and me, we brought him out on the mountains and all over to the sites of our reservation. And he just fell in love. He couldn’t get enough of it.

I was really surprised the following spring, when he emailed me and asked if he could come over and stay for a spell. So he came over, and I came and picked him up from the bus stop, and he came and stayed at our house. We went out in the woods and I introduced him to everybody I knew. And with that group of people, he found his own little clique who he got to know well enough that he could go to stay at their houses for a time, and take pictures and run around with them, and see other sites that I might not have shown him. And he has a family here, who, when they see him, they open their door and welcome him with open arms. It’s pretty amazing to have a guy from anywhere else be that close with everybody around here.


Allen: Is he planning to come back over?

Hall: He wants to. But with Covid and stuff, that’s the big issue. I think he’s trying to save money for whatever he needs. But I’ve told him that if he ever wants to come back, whenever he can, my door’s always open and if he wants to come bad enough, and Covid doesn’t prevent that, I told him I’d buy him an airplane ticket. I love the guy. Every time he comes my kids go, ‘Oh I remember you, I know who you are.’ They just start crawling all over him, it’s amazing.

And I am trying to plan a trip over there. When Covid’s done, I would love to go over and meet you two, as well as Fergus’s family, and his girlfriend, in person. So they can get to meet one of the guys behind the scenes. I think that would be really awesome.

I like traveling. I’ve worked all over the United States, and I’ve got to see a lot of beautiful places, and a lot of really rundown sad places, different reservations, and when I saw those places, I’d look at my home and think, I live in paradise compared to some of the places I’ve seen.


Allen: What’s your work? What’s allowed you to see that?

Hall: Construction. I chase the dollar. Recently, since Irene has been born, I stay home. If I can’t find a job here then I make it by. I work on rigs, I do projects here and there, to help us get by.


Mitchell: Fergus gives this impression of a place that’s really special. What do you think makes the Colville Reservation so extraordinary?

Hall: I don’t think a reservation is any more special than any other part of the country. It’s just what we make of it, because it’s all that we have left of the continent. I’m not trying to be woohoo wahwah, but our cultural tradition is embedded in us for eternity, and we take that with every generation, and every generation passes it down. Like with our hunting and our fishing. Our land, we try to take care of it in a different way. In a spiritual way that we’ve been taught from our elders. Passed down.

And I think what makes it so important is we’re supposed to be a sovereign reservation, a sovereign people, so we make our own laws and our own rules, and we abide by them outside of the state. But also, I think a lot of people envy us because we get to hunt seven months out of the year, we get to fish all year long, and the non-tribal members around here, they only got a total of twenty days to hunt, so that’s what makes everybody think that a reservation is so extraordinary. So when you see relay teams thriving, it’s a wonderful sight, and amazing to be able to participate.


Mitchell: When did you first see the photographs? You were there when they were taken. What was it like to look at the photographs afterwards, and see yourself, and see the things you know so well being represented by this outsider?

Hall: When I see the photographs Fergus took, I feel honored and proud that I got to be a part of that. I got to get him to the destination, and I feel like a picture, a photograph, is a moment in time that might otherwise be overlooked. If someone hadn’t captured that moment, you’d never be there again. You can go to the same place, but it won’t have the same meaning as the first or the second time. Each time you go somewhere, it has a different meaning, or a different emotion, because it’s a different time. And obviously, in time, everyone’s life changes, one way or another. But I think with Fergus’s photos, I think that it’s intriguing to see the different angles and the excitement of him getting out that camera to take any picture at any random place. Everyone says that a picture’s worth a thousand words, but you’ve got to choose the correct words to match the picture.

It’s been an amazing experience. The last time that Fergus and I talked, he talked about how much he’s matured in the past five years, coming here, taking the photographs, staying with families. And I think that’s the same with me. This guy came in, and not only do I have to worry about my family, but this guy from overseas, I’ve got to make sure he’s sent home safe and in one piece.


All images © Fergus Thomas

Fergus Thomas

Fergus Thomas is a British photographer. He specialises in long-term photographic projects, and undertakes assignments and commissions. He has worked for the Telegraph Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and Four Paws International.

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Duane Hall

Duane Hall is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

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