Despite being in fashion since my youth, I never thought I could become a model. I’m a proud member of the Hän Gwich’in and Sičangu / Oglala Lakota tribes in the United States – but like most local youth, I grew up without representation in pop culture. I didn’t feel confident, nor did I look the way I did.
When I was 14, I got my first facial tattoo, a traditional handpok tattoo called Yidįįłtoo, which was practiced at a ceremony as a sign of coming of age. It was a really special moment. I could have done it sooner, but I waited until I could better explain its meaning and sanctity: why is it necessary for us to reclaim this tradition after that – many Like other cultural practices – almost extinct. Other tattoos have been a passing ritual. Not all locals have the same tattoos. They each tell our personal history.
Kwanah Chasing Horse photographed in Tongueland, Tarzana, California. Credit: House Benley at Wood
I’ve always wanted to represent my people in the best way possible, and now I’m lucky enough to be on the cover of a magazine and on the runway. Being someone who can change the way others look at beauty, because I know a lot of girls who look like me and who can feel out of place.
It’s really nice to be part of a big change in the fashion industry where people from all walks of life are being represented. But my rule is that if you want to work with me, you have to work with me. I will not cut or change the color of my hair and I will not hide my face tattoos because they are part of my identity as a local. When I first started, I was worried that these non-negotiations would stop me from booking jobs, but instead I got the opposite. Everyone I’ve worked with has been very accepting, understanding and respectful. I am very blessed.
Respect my honor
Last September, I attended my first Met Gala, one of the biggest nights in fashion. I wanted to make my debut right, especially knowing that the theme is a celebration of American fashion. I set out to become myself and I respect my honor, which I did by combining a gold lace dress designed by Peter Dundas with local accessories.
Chasing Horse at the Met Gala last September. Credit: Taylor Hill / Wire Image / Getty Images
The turquoise and silver jewelry actually belongs to one of my aunts, who was named Miss Navajo Nation in 2006. I wore many of their beautiful silver and turquoise necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
My mother had to raise me and my siblings as a single parent, and my aunt was a big part of my upbringing and I often talk about my mother and aunt’s squad and how much they mean to me. ۔ These strong parents have shown me what real power looks like and how to use it in the best possible way.
I love Anna Venture (who thought putting pieces together was a great idea) and Peter, knowing how much it means to me to wear local jewelry on the red carpet. During the shoot with Vogue Mexico, I re-wore some of my aunt’s pieces, as well as those made by local Alaskan artists.
My people have always felt invisible and that is why it is so important to be visible. Despite all that local communities have endured and lost, we are still here, and we are proud of who we are.
Finding my voice
Chasing Horse with Alok Wade-Menon and Brettman Rock at New York Fashion Week talking about fashion identity and community. Credit: Roy Rochlin / Getty Images for IMG Fashion
My mother and my aunts have traveled with me to many rallies and demonstrations, where I have been given a place to discuss some of these issues. They have come with me to Washington, D.C., where I have lobbied on behalf of my people for the restoration of their sacred land through the HR 1146 Bill (which was passed on the floor of the House of Representatives last year but has not moved forward). ۔ Because of their constant encouragement, I have found my voice and I am discovering my strength.
Modeling has become another tool of my advocacy work. It has become a platform for storytelling as well as spotlighting important issues. Because of this, it’s important for me to work with designers and brands that hold the same values of climate justice and sustainability. I recently went to designer Gabriela Hurst, who is focused on sustainability, and has collaborated with locals, credited them with their work, and hired local models to exhibit the pieces. I have also partnered with luxury outerwear brand McGee, which created a beautiful, durable and recyclable collection and donated to a non-profit organization that helps local people around the world.
Chasing Horse walks the runway during the Gachhi Love Parade in Los Angeles. Credit: Fraser Harrison / Getty Images for Gucci
These days, I’m getting a lot of messages from young local women who are excited to see my recent fashion shoots in magazines. I can’t even describe the feeling I feel because it’s a powerful thing for our people to finally see and hear after so long without representation in fashion. And this young generation will not have to break the first hurdle, but they will be able to walk this path with me.
And while I see more involvement in fashion when it comes to race, size and gender, there is still room for improvement. In every show or shoot I’m a part of, I meet the most beautiful people, and I don’t just talk about their looks. Many emerging models now have something special and unique about what they bring – they’re not just for dressing up. The whole industry is happy to see these changes as it develops into a better version of itself. But we have to hold each other accountable. I look forward to seeing it grow.
Top Image: Quannah Chasinghorse addresses the Justice for the People, Justice for the Earth Rally in Fairbanks, Arkansas.