The Red Road: Documenting the Lives of Northern Tribes

Two friends with a love for storytelling (Danielle SeeWalker from the Sioux tribe) and documenting life experiences in pictures (Carlotta Cardana), came together to capture the lives of Northern Tribes, of their living cultures and resilience, despite centuries of oppression. We transcribe here excerpts of their own description about the inspiration behind this project (as well as a full Spanish translation) and invite you to visit their website to see the full collection. Their work has been featured in several magazines, in multiple languages.

SOURCE: The Red Road Project

Since its inception, The Red Road Project’s purpose is to explore the relationship between traditional Native American culture and the identity of tribal people today. For more than a century, the culture and people have survived some of the most horrific events in American history, including cultural genocide. Contrast these events, the resilience of the people is utmost inspiring and the aim is to highlight these stories. The title of this work comes from various Native American teachings that encourage one to follow “the red road.” One will often hear Native Americans say they are walking “the red road” which identifies them as being on the path to positive change. With this work, we want to illustrate how Native American culture has had to overcome cultural genocide and highlight not only the backlash of the struggles but bring forth the strength, sovereignty, and pride among these people.


Although many cultural practices were halted for several decades due to the effects of boarding schools, Native Americans never lost sight of their strong connection with “unci maka” (grandmother earth) and that is evident in many of the photographs in this project. Linda Black Elk, an ethnobotanist living on Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, says it best: “We don’t just live here; we participate with the earth, plants and animals. They take care of us and we take care of them.”

We include below a couple examples of this project, but encourage folks to visit their website to get the full experience and love for Native people behind this project.

Linda Black Elk
Photo: Carlotta Cardana

Linda, of Catawba and Mongolian heritage, dedicates her life to wild plants found in and around the Indian reservations. Not only is ethnobotany her career, but it’s also her hobby and her life. As a child, her grandmother would teach her all about wild plants; which ones to eat, ones that could be used for medicine and how to prepare them. Today, she continues to pass that knowledge onto her people and has recently written a book titled Watoto Unyutapi (Plants That We Eat). She explains, “Our ancestors have always been scientists. We, as Native Americans, know more about the environment than anybody because we don’t just live here, we participate with the earth, the animals, and the plants. We are not separate from them; they take care of us and we take care of them”.


Crisosto Apache
Photo: Carlotta Cardana

Crisosto Apache, of the Mescalero Apache tribe, is a published poet and also writes pieces that support the LGBTQ initiatives he is involved with as a gay Native man. He explains that there is no word for “gay” in any Native American language, but is referred to as being “two spirited”. “Two-spirited” in Native communities is someone that embodies the attributes of both man and female spirits. Historically in many tribal nations, having a two-spirited person in your family was considered a blessing because many two-spirited people often went on to become holy people within the community.



Sage Honga
Photo: Carlotta Cardana

Sage Honga, 22, of the Hualapai tribe, earned the title of 1st attendant in the 2012 annual pageant, Miss Native American USA. From that point forward, she has been promoting her platform encouraging Native youth to travel off the reservation 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 continues to speak to youth focusing on four fundamental principles: traditionalism, spirituality, contemporary issues and education. 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 hand-made dress and natural make-up on her face, traditionally used by the Hualapai.


Julian Ramírez
Foto: Carlotta Cardana

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 Indians. Julian has never cut his son’s hair and says that Elijah will not be allowed to do so until he turns 13.

  • Since inception, The Red Road Project’s purpose is to document, through words & visuals, the inspiring and resilient stories of Native America. These stories, not often told, highlight people that are doing positive things to help their communities prosper.

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