As we talk, Quannah Chasinghorse is doing her makeup. She is describing her approach to making herself feel beautiful — while she does just that. There is also a wonderful dichotomy in seeing an international supermodel apply makeup while talking about fish camp and hiking on Native lands. She enjoys both sides of that spectrum.
“I love it,” Chasinghorse says of her makeup process. “And I learn new tips and tricks in every shoot that I do. It’s always superfun for me to ask questions.” But it goes deeper than that. “Basically, makeup is a form of art,” she continues, “because every day, it is a little therapeutic to just sit in front of a mirror and make yourself feel pretty and look pretty and have fun with it, to get creative.” She wears a big smile on her face as she says this.
Versace jacket. Cartier earrings. To create a similar makeup look: The Matriarch Palette and Lipstick in Mirabelle by Prados Beauty. Photographed by Cass Bird. Fashion stylist: Heathermary Jackson. Hair: Naeemah LaFond. Makeup: Romy Soleimani. Production: Free Bird Production
Chasinghorse is Hän Gwich’in of Eagle Village, Alaska, on her mother’s side and Sicangu-Oglala Lakota of the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota on her father’s side. She is a land protector, and advocates for climate action and Indigenous rights. That advocacy began early. She was just 12 years old when she spoke at a Fairbanks North Star Borough School District board meeting, addressing whether Columbus Day should be changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. She spoke with much power and bravery, and the board voted to make the change.
Her modeling career has given her a larger platform and a greater opportunity for self-expression. Still, embracing her looks and feeling “pretty” has not always come naturally. Feeling beautiful has been a process of growth and a development of self-love.
“I definitely struggled a lot growing up with my looks,” Chasinghorse says. “I never thought that I was desirable or wanted or beautiful or anything like that because of very stereotypical beauty standards.” She says Western ideals of beauty dominated the popular imagery she was exposed to. 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 arose from her advocacy work), to the covers of Vogue Mexico and National Geographic, she has made her mark. She recently appeared in ads for the Canadian outerwear company Mackage.
Givenchy top. Tiffany & Co. bracelet. Chasinghorse’s own ring. To create a similar makeup look: Sustain Eyeshadow Pencil in Seafoam Green and Sustain Lipgloss in Sweetgrass by Cheekbone Beauty.
Chasinghorse is inspirational to many Native girls and women, and likely those outside the American Indian and Alaska Native communities as well. The 20-year-old is a beacon for anyone who can relate to not feeling beautiful, seen, or represented in mainstream beauty and fashion imagery.
“I just stopped caring [about other beauty ideals],” she says. “I’ve realized that I will never be like them, and in order to be truly happy I just need to learn to love myself and not try to change myself so that other people would love me more.” At this stage in her life, in contrast with even five or so years ago, she is proud to enthusiastically embrace her features, especially her distinctly Indigenous cheekbones and nose. She also notes that her proclivity to use turquoise-colored makeup harkens back to her connection to the Navajo Nation where she was born, and to her Navajo relatives. “There’s a big change in my confidence when I am wearing my Indigenous jewelry,” Chasinghorse says. “And it’s because I do feel more seen, I do feel more powerful because these are earth elements.”
She also feels a calling to educate others about Native identity, to broaden views. And yet, she says, “I don’t want people to be 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 erased that people don’t even know that we’re still here. I see all over TikTok and Instagram, other people talking about Native Americans in the past tense as if we’re not here anymore. That’s what I’m trying to change.”
Puppets & Puppets 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 brands she has worked with to learn, particularly the ones that may have appropriated Native culture in the past because “they didn’t know better.” She describes it like this: “It’s the fact that these brands are willing to hop on a call to do the work, to understand. It’s a collaboration. It makes me want to be there.”
There was a time, of course, 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 being land protectors and water protectors is really important and vital to [everyone in every] industry.”
Chasinghorse’s path to confidence has gone well-beyond the superficial. “What truly made me feel beautiful was my voice. When I found my voice, I found confidence,” she recalls. “When I found my voice, I felt powerful, and that’s where I found my power…. People will listen to you if you have something to say.”
She remembers being told by an elder: “‘You’re powerful because you have a strong voice, but you also are very beautiful and captivating. So use it to your best advantage.’”
I carry myself in a way where I really try to stick to my values and how I was raised.
As we dive further into the subject of her activism — where she puts that voice to use — Chasinghorse’s tremendous respect and reverence for the land and animals come through loud and clear. I ask whether her people had occupied the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that she and members of her family fight to protect.
“Well, our tribes up here don’t actually go into the Arctic [Wildlife Refuge],” she explains. “It’s such sacred land that we just kind of let it be, let it stay with the animals. It’s a caribou calving ground. So we just always kind of avoided those areas because that, basically, belongs to them, right within the Arctic Circle.”
It’s a core value across most Indigenous communities to think about the next seven generations and beyond. Individuals are not just living for themselves, they are living with the lives of our future youth in mind.
“I carry myself in a way where I really try to stick to my values and how I was raised,” Chasinghorse says. “We’re strong in what we believe in and how we see the world. Alone, the fact that 80 percent of the world’s bio- diversity is protected by Indigenous people shows how we walk in this world. We know that when we walk our path in a good way, we are honoring our ancestors.”
In addition to her environmental advocacy work, Chasinghorse also voices a need for more Indigenous people to be included in the fields of media, television, movies, fashion, and beauty. She is grateful to be a part of the group of young Native people paving the way for others, just as people before her have done. “It’s very important because we need to belong in those spaces,” she says. “We have to prove ourselves more than anybody else because of the harmful stereotypes that are brought upon our people. To be able to be someone that is changing that narrative within these spaces, it’s a very honoring feeling. It really is kind of breaking the trail for others behind me to have a more clear path. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very worth it.”
There is significant momentum right now in terms of Indigenous representation in mainstream media, fashion, and beauty, 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 all the spaces where she walks, and that encourages her and gives her strength.
“I always just thank Creator,” she says, “my ancestors, and even, like, the people within my life right now that have really helped me get to where I’m at.”
Where she is at, needless to say, is only a prelude to where she is going. “There are a lot of really amazing projects, and [I appreciate] being able to work with brands, people, and designers that want to be a part of that change,” she says. “And want to uplift me, my work, and what I stand for. The industry, it is moving, it is growing, and doing better than what it was. Of course, there’s more room for growth, but it’s definitely in a really good place where I feel like I’m being respected. My ways of life, my values, how I present myself, how I work, and everything is really well-respected in the fashion world right now.”
We finish our conversation as she applies her lashes, the final step in the glam routine that she’s carried out during our chat. She’s off to Fairbanks, she says, “to visit some friends and some people that I have not seen in a long time. So, I’m excited.”
As Chasinghorse moves from a small village to larger towns in Alaska to the world’s runways and magazine covers, the rest of us are excited too.
Photographed by Cass Bird
Fashion stylist: Heathermary Jackson
Hair: Naeemah LaFond
Makeup: Romy Soleimani
Production: Free Bird Production