Fifteen years after an Italian exchange student met a Native American in a U.S. secondary school, the two teamed up to create portraits of Native Americans that explore modern-day lives shaped by native culture. Italian photographer Carlotta Cardana and American writer Danielle SeeWalker have known each other since Cardana came to Nebraska as an exchange student and met SeeWalker, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Their portrait series, The Red Road Project, captures Native Americans dedicated to walking “the good path” — a native concept of how one should live, based on many tribes’ spiritual teachings. “All the people we’ve met and photographed follow this ‘red road’ in some way, rising above [obstacles] to be role models” within their communities, said SeeWalker.
Here is a selection of Red Road Project portraits.
Julian Ramirez, a single father, works at a casino on the Standing Rock reservation. After his son, Elijah, was born, his partner left. Because long hair is a matter of pride among Indians, Julian has never cut his son’s hair and says Elijah will not be allowed to do so until he turns 13.
One image offers a glimpse of Shiprock, a town on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico that is named for a nearby rock formation that resembles a ship.
Martin Sensmeier, from the Athabascan and Tlingit tribes of Alaska, is a Hollywood actor who often speaks at tribal schools and takes part in native events.
Típiziwin Young created an immersion program to teach the Lakota language to preschool children. Other tribes now seek her guidance on starting their own language programs.
An image of two boys who formed the band American Eyes. They’re from Oklahoma City and they travel around reservations, performing cover songs by the rock band AC/DC.
Sage Honga, of the Hualapai tribe, competed in the 2012 Miss Native American USA pageant. She encourages native youth to pursue an education. Here, she wears a handmade dress and organic makeup traditionally used by the Hualapai people.
Two boys are shown riding their bikes in Sioux Village on the Standing Rock reservation.
To date, The Red Road Project has been exhibited in London and Rome, and in Verona, Italy. The project aims to dispel misconceptions about Native Americans, said SeeWalker.
Throughout their portrait sessions, “we would always ask individuals what they would like people to know of native culture,” she added, “and the common response is ‘resilience. Despite everything, we are still here.’”