Model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse is much more than a symbol of evolving ideals of beauty. With a voice as clear and powerful as her looks, she continues to advocate for indigenous people and environmental justice.
BY: Alyssa Yax Adi Yadi London
PHOTOGRAPHED BY: Cass Bird
As we chat, Quannah Chasinghorse is doing her makeup. She describes her approach to feeling beautiful — while doing just that. It’s also a wonderful contrast to see an international supermodel apply makeup while discussing fishing camps and migrations in indigenous lands. She enjoys both sides of this spectrum.
“I love it,” Chasinghorse says of her makeup process. “And I learn new tips and tricks with every shoot I do. I always enjoy asking questions.” But it goes deeper than that. “Basically, makeup is a form of art,” she continues, “because every day it’s just a little therapeutic to just sit in front of a mirror and feel pretty and look pretty and have fun creating. ” She wears a big smile on her face as she says this.
Versace jacket. Cartier earrings. For a similar makeup look: The Matriarch Palette and Lipstick in Mirabelle by Prados Beauty. Photographed by Cass Bird. Fashion Stylist: Heatherary Jackson. Hair: Naeemah LaFond. Make-up: Romy Soleimani. Production: Free bird production
Chasinghorse is Hän Gwich’in from Eagle Village, Alaska on his mother’s side and Sicangu-Oglala Lakota from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota on his father’s side. She is a land protector and campaigns for climate protection and the rights of the indigenous people. This advocacy started early. She was just 12 when she spoke at a Fairbanks North Star Borough School District board meeting about changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. She spoke with great strength and courage, and the board voted in favor of the change.
Her modeling career has given her a greater platform and opportunity for self-expression. Still, embracing her looks and feeling “pretty” wasn’t always a given. Feeling beautiful was a process of growth and development of self-love.
“I definitely struggled a lot with my looks growing up,” says Chasinghorse. “I never thought I was desirable or wanted or beautiful or anything like that because I have very stereotypical ideals of beauty.” She says Western ideals of beauty dominated the popular imagery to which she was exposed. But now she’s at the forefront of a movement that challenges all of that. From her big break in an ad for CK One (which actually grew out of her advocacy work) to the covers of Fashion She has made a name for herself in Mexico and National Geographic. She recently appeared in ads for Canadian outerwear company Mackage.
Givenchy top. Bracelet by Tiffany & Co. Chasinghorse’s own ring. For a similar makeup look: Sustain Eyeshadow Pencil in Seafoam Green and Sustain Lipgloss in Sweetgrass by Cheekbone Beauty.
Chasinghorse is an inspiration to many Native American girls and women, and likely those outside of the Native American and Alaskan Native communities as well. The 20-year-old is a beacon for anyone who can identify with not feeling beautiful, seen, or represented in mainstream beauty and fashion images.
“I just stopped caring [about other beauty ideals],” she says. “I’ve come to realize that I’ll never be like them, and to be truly happy I just need to learn to love myself and not try to change myself so that others love me more. At this point in her life, as opposed to about five years ago, she prides herself on embracing her features with enthusiasm, particularly her distinctly indigenous cheekbones and nose use, stems from her connection to the Navajo Nation in which she was born and to her Navajo relatives.”There’s a big shift in my confidence when I wear my Indigenous jewelry,” says Chasinghorse. “And because I feel more seen, I feel more powerful because these are earth elements.”
She also feels a calling to educate others about Aboriginal identity and to expand their views. And yet she says, “I don’t want people to feel embarrassed or whatever because it’s not their fault that they don’t know. It’s the school system, it’s society. we [Native people] are so wiped out people don’t even know we’re still here. I see other people all over TikTok and Instagram talking about Indians in the past tense like we’re not here anymore. I’m trying to change that.”
Dolls & doll dress. Cartier earrings. To create a similar makeup look: Frybread Gloss in Crisco and Native Glare Palette by Blended Girl Cosmetics.
Chasinghorse applauds the openness of the brands she has worked with to learn, particularly those who may have embraced Aboriginal culture in the past because “they didn’t know any better.” As she describes it, “It’s the fact that these brands are willing to answer a call to get the job done and understand. It’s a collaboration. I want to be there.”
There was, of course, a time in the not too distant past when brands were less inclined to put in the work. “I think we’re in such a good place right now,” she says. “People are seeing that the environment and protecting land and water is really important and vital [everyone in every] Industry.”
Chasinghorse’s journey to confidence goes well beyond the surface. “What really made me beautiful was my voice. When I found my voice, I found confidence,” she recalls. “Finding my voice made me feel strong, and that’s where I found my strength … People will listen to you when you have something to say.”
She recalls being told by an elder, “‘You are powerful because you have a strong voice, but you are also very beautiful and captivating. So use it to your best advantage.’”
I carry myself as really trying to hold on to my values and how I was raised.
As we delve further into the theme of her activism—where she uses that voice—Chasinghorse’s tremendous respect and reverence for the land and animals comes through loud and clear. I ask if her people have occupied the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which she and members of her family are fighting to protect.
“Well, our tribes up here don’t actually go to the Arctic [Wildlife Refuge],” she explains. “It’s such sacred land that we just let it be, let it be with the animals. It’s a caribou calf paddock. So we’ve just always avoided those areas because that’s basically theirs , just inside the Arctic Circle.”
Thinking about the next seven generations and beyond is a core value in most Indigenous communities. Individuals not only live for themselves, they live with the lives of our future youth in mind.
“I carry myself in a way that’s really trying to hold on to my values and how I was raised,” says Chasinghorse. “We are strong in what we believe in and how we see the world. The mere fact that 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity is protected by indigenous peoples shows how we live in this world. We know that when we walk well, we honor our ancestors.”
In addition to her work to protect the environment, Chasinghorse also calls for the need to engage more indigenous peoples in media, television, film, fashion and beauty. She is grateful to be part of the group of young indigenous people who are paving the way for others, just as people have done before her. “It’s very important because we have to belong in these spaces,” she says. “We have to prove ourselves more than anyone else because of the harmful stereotypes cast upon our people. To be able to be someone who changes this narrative in these spaces is very honorable. It’s really a kind of breaking away for others behind me to have a clearer path. It’s a lot of work, but very worth it.”
There is significant momentum right now in terms of Aboriginal representation in mainstream media, fashion, and the beauty industry, and Chasinghorse knows there are generations of ancestors and Indigenous relatives to thank for that. She knows she carries the trauma, hopes, and triumphs of her ancestors into every space she walks in, and it encourages and empowers her.
“I always thank the Creator,” she says, “my ancestors and even the people in my life now who have really helped me get to where I am.”
Of course, where she is now is just a prelude to where she is going. “There are a lot of really amazing projects out there, and [I appreciate] to be able to work with brands, people and designers who want to be part of this change,” she says. “And wanting to uplift myself, my work and what I stand for. The industry is moving, it’s growing and it’s doing better than before. Of course there’s more room for growth, but it’s definitely in a really good place where I feel respected. My way of life, my values, how I present myself, how I work and everything is very respectable in the fashion world right now.”
We wrap up our conversation as she attaches her lashes, the final step in the glamorous routine she was performing during our conversation. She’s going to Fairbanks, she says, “to visit some friends and people I haven’t seen in a long time. So, I’m excited.”
As Chasinghorse moves from a small village to bigger Alaskan cities to the runways and covers of the world, the rest of us are excited too.
Photographed by Cass Bird
Fashion Stylist: Heatherary Jackson
Hair: Naeemah LaFond
Make-up: Romy Soleimani
Production: Free bird production