Alaska Life

Alaska teen activist and model brings ‘Indigenous excellence’ to the cover of Vogue Mexico

A familiar face is on the cover of Vogue Mexico’s May issue.

In a sheer yellow Valentino dress with dusty pink flowers is 18-year-old Quannah Chasinghorse, from the Native Village of Eagle, her gaze trained on the camera as she stands on a beach two hours south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Chasinghorse — who is Han Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota — highlighted her activism and the need for accurate representation in modeling in the cover story, encompassed in a 20-page spread.

“Becoming a model was always my dream, since I was little, since I was three or four years old,” Chasinghorse told Vogue Mexico. “I think it’s so beautiful because now it’s not just about my image. It is my voice and who I am.”

She’s had a busy year. Chasinghorse and her mother, Jody Potts, were profiled in a September Teen Vogue article about their longtime fight to protect Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A month later she was chosen, along with 10 other models, for Calvin Klein’s CK One campaign.

In November, she was recognized in Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 list highlighting young girls and femmes. She was also in The Chanel Book’s 2021 issue, which was released last month.

Chasinghorse is a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights and climate justice. She and fellow teenage Indigenous activist Nanieezh Peter, describing how a warming climate has affected the lives of Alaska Natives and fueled uncertainty for future generations, were instrumental in pushing the Alaska Federation of Natives to declare a climate change emergency at its 2019 convention.

Chasinghorse’s photo spread and interview with Vogue Mexico will also run in Vogue Japan’s June issue.

“Coming straight out of Alaska as a little Native Bush girl, it was just a whole different world for me,” Chasinghorse said in an interview with the Daily News on Friday. “Every one of the Indigenous communities in Indian country has been so supportive.”

Chasinghorse said Friday that she has been apprenticing under her mother to learn traditional tattooing. She has several traditional tattoos she received from Potts.

“I think this is the first time they’ve seen a Native American on any Vogue cover, especially carrying traditional tattoos,” Chasinghorse said. “That’s another big thing for Native women — it really connects you to, ‘Oh, she must be Alaska Native, or she must be Native from a certain tribe that carries those tattoos.’ It makes people want to look more into our culture more, and we’re getting more visibility through that.”

In the Vogue Mexico cover photo, Chasinghorse is also wearing two pairs of earrings: one made by her best friend’s mom, Melissa Charlie, and another that she bought from an Indigenous jewelry-maker in Minnesota.

Before leaving for Mexico, she’d packed plenty of her Indigenous-made jewelry, which was used throughout the two-day shoot.

“They had all the jewelry and stuff set out on the beach ... the very last outfit was the cover, it was that yellow Valentino,” Chasinghorse said.

She was in Mexico for “four or five” days in January for the cover shoot, which was just her second shoot signed with modeling agency IMG. Chasinghorse said her agents couldn’t tell her what the project even was until five days before she flew south.

Originally, Chasinghorse said, the project was only supposed to involve a photo shoot — but the editor in chief at Vogue had so many questions that an interview was added to her spread.

“Growing up, I never saw representation like that,” Chasinghorse said. “All of these young generations are going to be able to witness Indigenous excellence in this way. I never grew up confident within myself because of the diminishing stereotypes against Native peoples and how our stories are vastly and negatively told through the eyes of colonialism.

“Our history and our stories aren’t shared when they should be.”

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