Behold

An Italian and a Native American’s Quest to Give Voice to American Indians

Sage in the Colorado River. Sage Honga, 22, of the Hualapai tribe, earned the title of first attendant in the 2012 Miss Native American USA. From that point forward, she has been promoting her platform encouraging Native youth to travel off their reservations to explore opportunities. In Native American culture, knowledge is power, and the youth are encouraged to leave the reservations, get an education and then come home to give back to your people. Sage is photographed at a sacred site of the Hualapai people and one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. She wears a handmade dress and natural makeup on her face, traditionally used by the Hualapai.

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

When Italian Carlotta Cardana was in high school, she spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Nebraska. While there, she met Danielle SeeWalker, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The two became fast friends and kept in touch when Cardana left the U.S. Fifteen years later, during a meeting in London, they began to talk about the American Indian culture and how it was often misrepresented or ignored in the media. They set out to create a project that gave voice to an often-silenced population through Cardana’s images and SeeWalker’s words in the ongoing work “The Red Road Project.”

Advertisement

They began by photographing and interviewing SeeWalker’s relatives, since they found it difficult to meet strangers willing to participate. Many people weren’t certain what to make about the project. “[The Native community] have suspicions toward everyone who works in the media and everyone who is not Native,” Cardana said. “They weren’t really trusting us.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Julian With His Son Elijah. Julian Ramirez, 27, is a single father who works at the local casino on the Standing Rock reservation. Shortly after the birth of his son, Elijah, his partner left them. Long hair is a matter of pride among American Indians. Julian has never cut his son’s hair and says that Elijah will not be allowed to do so until he turns 13.

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

Advertisement
Elijah Battese. A young Lakota boy from Pine Ridge is pursuing his dream of becoming a professional skateboarder.

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

Gina in Her Patrol Car. Gina Szczur, 29, is a single mother and a federal police officer for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She served in Iraq during her early 20s, and after her brother’s mysterious death that left her family with unanswered questions, she decided to become a police officer to bring justice for other people.

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

Advertisement

The more people they included in the project, the more word began to spread on social media, adding some weight to their project and slowly convincing other people that their intentions were positive. Still, another obstacle they faced was to convince people about the importance of visibility.

“They’re very humble and they believe in humility and can’t handle putting themselves in that light,” Cardana said. “We said, ‘You’re doing important things and people need to know so other Natives can be inspired.’ They want the best for their community, and they see our project as an opportunity to tell their side of the story.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Crisosto Apache. An activist for LGBTQ rights in the Native community, he explains that there is no word for “gay” in any Native American language but is referred to as being “two spirited.”

 

 

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisement

The point of the project is to provide a space that allows people to speak freely about their experiences, so Cardana, an experienced editorial photographer used to working with limited time and location options, has her subjects pick what they want to wear and where they want to be photographed.

“I feel like if I were the one deciding where to do the pictures, it would be untruthful,” she said. “I wasn’t interested in making a super nice photo with a nice background; I was interesting in having an environment that adds to the story, that tells you what’s important for them.”

Cardana and SeeWalker hope to continue making work around the country (they’re spending November in Nebraska and December in California). Eventually, they’d like to create a project that also includes archival images and artwork created by Native Americans.

Advertisement

“We want to tell people about Native Americans and also to tell Natives about other Natives doing great stuff, as in inspiration,” she said. “To go back into the community and be an inspiration.”

Maka in His Classroom. Maka Clifford, teacher at Red Cloud Indian School. After traveling the world and teaching English in Japan, he realized his calling was going back to the reservation to teach his own people and inspire young kids to explore life off the reservation.

 

 

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisement
Evereta. When Evereta Thinn, 30, entered college as the only Native American in her English 101 class, she realized that she needed to speak up and not be the stereotypical “shy” Indian who keeps to herself. She works as an administrator at the school district on the Navajo Nation and aspires to start a language and cultural immersion school for the Diné (Navajo) people.

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

Advertisement
Ishko in His Studio. Ishkoten Dougi sits in his art studio on the Isleta Pueblo Indian Reservation in New Mexico. His artwork represents some of the atrocities inflicted on Native Americans.

 

 

Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project

 

 

Advertisement