By Levi Rickert and Neely Bardwell
LAS VEGAS — Quannah Chasinghorse (Hän Gwich’in and Sicangu Oglala Lakota) made a surprise visit Tuesday to the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s 2022 Reservation Economic Summit (RES), where she was an immediate hit.
National Center President and CEO Chris James spoke with the 20-year-old Native American model, who has graced the cover of Elle and Mexico Vogue. Chasinghorse received a standing ovation at the end of his interview.
Indigenous News Online participates in RES and captured this interview with Chasinghorse. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You certainly have a unique insight into our Native American community. You were born on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, your parents are Alaskan native and Alaskan-raised Lakota. How were you able to incorporate those elements of it all?
I think being a model, and this is something new that I think the modeling industry in every industry is getting used to, is that a lot of the models are people of color or BIPOC. Within this community, it is more difficult for brands and customers to want to change our image, because most of the time they want a model whose look they can change. They want you to be a blank canvas for them to play with.
But for me, I’m really a person of, if you want to work with me, you have to work with all of me and that includes my tattoos. You can’t cut or dye my hair, stuff like that – and stay strong with it – because that’s how people respect you.
I think it’s really good for me to be able to do the work in those spaces and break down those barriers. I am very lucky to be part of it.
Could you tell us a bit more about (your) connection with young people?
Being so young, I think it’s so important to show up for my people that way. Especially young people, being so young, just showing up and showing each other that we can support each other, we can lift each other up.
We are welcome in all spaces, whether we want to or not. We belong in these spaces, and every space, whether it’s modeling, acting, music, academia, like every space we belong, and never feel like we’re alone because at the end of the day, something that keeps me really strong in every space is knowing that my ancestors are with me.
There are so many beautiful native designers. Role models of so many beautiful people who could easily step into these spaces, but just haven’t had the opportunity, or the chance, to show themselves.
Is it difficult to be an activist in your modeling career? How do you find this balance? How do you act, and how are you militant around other causes that you want to promote?
I think now I have a bigger platform, but before it was just about building relationships in those spaces. One thing I always say is that the statistics are there and the scientists are there, and it’s readily available, but what’s missing is the experience.
What people don’t recognize is, “Oh, we know the stats, we know the facts,” but it’s hard to talk to someone without a personal experience or story to tell. It can be difficult to find a balance. It can be difficult to feel seen or heard in these spaces, but I think it’s really important to be able to work with clients and with brands and designers who share the same values and are inspired by our values because that is what creates the change.
I’ve had difficult conversations with brands and clients where they’re not sustainable, and they’ve had cultural appropriation issues in the past, and now they want to work with me and I’m like, ‘Well, here’s the thing is the problem. And that’s a problem. It is a problem. And here is how we can solve this problem. And here’s how you can collaborate and here’s how you can work with us to be part of the change.
It’s something I’m really proud of, and I can’t really reveal who or what I’ve done it with so far because it hasn’t really come out. But I’m very proud to say that there have been a lot of changes.
There’s this brand called Mackage that I did a campaign for recently, and they were pretty durable before, but they weren’t quite where I felt they needed to be. They reached out to me and they wanted to work with me because I’ve worked with them in the past and they were like, ‘We’re really really really inspired by your work and how strong you are with it and your message.
Thus, they created a line of 100% recycled and upcycled clothing. I was at the center of their campaign. And not only did they do that, but they also allowed me to bring my own Indigenous story and represent it. Just being able to, as I said, work with clients who want to do better and who want to be part of the change and part of the movement is so important. To be able to represent my people, not just with my face but with our art, with our jewelry, and that beauty outside of my look, it’s an honor, and it’s a whole dynamic of respect within the industry.
What’s next for you? What’s next on the horizon?
I have been working on this film for three years. It’s called Walking Two Worlds. That’s basically my story, but in the beginning it was all about advocacy. It was when I was doing a bunch of pre-modeling advocacy work, because my modeling career only started just over a year ago.
We have been filming this for three years. This was long before any modeling appeared, and it was just advocacy work. It’s about movement, community, connection to the land, and the beauty of staying connected and beyond. It shows my growth over the past two years and I’m really excited about it because I was really, really nervous.
The reason it’s called Walking Two Worlds is because, one, I’m in a world where I’m constantly going back and forth in this fast-paced high-fashion demanding world that I’m not used to, but I’m still s ‘to adapt to. Then there’s the world I feel good in, my culture, my traditions, my way of life, and staying connected to that. Trying to balance the two, I talk about that a lot, and there are a lot of clips in there that show that vulnerability.
There’s this clip where I’m doing an interview, and I’m talking about how the next thing you know, I’m in these spaces, I’m in the big cities, but then when I get home those who go home sledding at dogs, and going home with traditional foods, with our songs and our political culture, and so I try to find a balance with that.
It will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It lasts about 30 minutes and is in collaboration with The North Face. So I’ve been working with The North Face for a few years, and this is their first film that’s not about sports, and I’m very honored to be able to be their first film that’s about advocacy, and it’s on the land because I think working with brands in the outdoor industry is also very important, because it is the outdoor industry.
We have a lot of people in the audience who may be wondering, “How can I walk in two worlds? How can I work with the business community and focus on my traditional values and mine? »
One thing my mom always taught me, and something I carry with me in every space I go, and repeat myself when I really need it or even call my mom to tell me when I really need to hear it, it’s “Never forget who you are and where you come from”.
It is so easy to get distracted in such a capitalist world. It’s so easy to lose sight of your values because of this society. This world was not built for us. It’s not for people of color.
To be able to be where I am is a blessing and an honor and beyond. Just be proud of your lines. Never be ashamed of that.
I used to have self-esteem issues even when I started modeling because I was one of the only ones in those spaces and I was like, ‘Why is that? Why is that?’, and constantly questioning myself. I had to take a moment to recognize that not only have our people come so far, we’ve been through so much for generations, and it’s so easy to focus on the difficulties, it’s so easy to lose sight or lose sight of the good things, but you have to remember that we also come from so much power.
There is so much power in our lines. We are such powerful people. I think it’s easy to forget that because there’s so much trauma, so much pain that our people go through when it comes to losing their land. Beyond the MMIW outbreak and beyond climate justice, there are so many challenges facing our people today. It’s so easy to feel small but remember we all carry a strong lineage and we’re still here and we’re here for a reason and our ancestors sacrificed so much and to accommodate that and never walk in shame.