8 inspiring pics from two women on a mission to break Native American stereotypes.

Carlotta Cardana and Danielle SeeWalker first met in Fremont, Nebraska, in 1998.

At the time, they were both new students at the local high school: Cardana was an exchange student from Italy, and SeeWalker, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, had just moved to the town with her family.

Since then, they’ve remained friends despite living on different continents.

For many years, Cardana and SeeWalker “was talkin about a” working on a creative project together.

But it wasn’t until a random night in 2013 that they ultimately decided to commit.

Both females have journeyed to understand each other, and then to understand SeeWalker’s Native American heritage together, over the past 20 years. But with this new project, they wanted to take that journey one step further: to the heart of Americas past, present, and future.

They decided to call their project the Red Road Project, a collection of narratives that explore the relationship between Native American people and their identity in modern society .

SeeWalker, a writer, and Cardana, a photographer, induced plans to travel to different communities all over America and record these amazing narratives using images and words.

They were both fascinated with Native American culture and history, so the project was a natural next step. Danielle had always told me narratives about her family and Native American culture in general, and I found that her narratives were completely different from what Id usually see in the media, which tends to focus on the negative issues, Cardana said in an email.

First, they talked with SeeWalker’s family and met others at community sessions. Then their project blossomed.

From there, it was an organic growth through word of mouth. One person we spoke with would refer one, two or a handful of populations and it grew from there, SeeWalker said. And they have found this to be the most effective way of growing their project.

But they soon realized that their journey couldnt simply be an inward look at themselves; it was also an opportunity to inspire and educate the world with these positive narratives . I think during our second trip-up( summertime 2014) it became clear that we werent doing this project just for the two of us, but that all the people we met had put their trust into us to get their tale out there, Cardana said.

“Linda Black Elk, of Catawba and Mongolian heritage, dedicates their own lives to wild plants found in and around the Indian reservations. Not only is ethnobotany her career, but its also her hobby and their own lives. As small children, her grandmother would teach her all about wild plants; which ones to feed, 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 ). ”

Three years later, they have talked with many people from tribes and nations across the country.

SeeWalker recounted one of her sessions: One gentleman that we met while on the Wind River Reservation lived in a day where there was no running water or energy . He told us what it was like getting a refrigerator for the first time and how it was so much fun.

“Ula and Tim Tyler belong to the Eastern Shoshone tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. They have been living on the reservation since before the introduction of running water and electricity. They have been creating their great-granddaughter since she was very little, teaching her about ‘the traditional ways.'”

Some of the people they have met told them about the health risks loss of important cultural heritage.

We met with one tribe( Mandan) and were told there was only one fluent speaker left alive; once he passes, the language dies too, ” SeeWalker told us. “It is so heartbreaking because language is the center of the entire culture: the ceremonies, the traditions, and the way of life. There are many initiatives actively in place to promote younger generations to learn the language and keep it alive.

“A flag waves outside the Holocaust Museum in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Wounded Knee Massacre was one of the biggest tragedies in Native American history and it was activated by Chief Sitting Bulls death. After forcing Native Americans into reservation life, on December 29, 1890, the US army killed almost 300 Lakota humen, women and children. The massacre marked the end of the so-called Indian Wars.”

But above all else, these narratives are about where Native Americans have been.

“This bald eagle claw personnel belongs to Desert Storm war veteran, Hanson Chee. The featherings represent per year he served in the military and the beadwork honors his father and grandfathers whom also were war veterans. The eagle claw was a gift from his father-in-law who caught the eagle while on a hunt.”

And where they are going.

These narratives are about the fabric of an America we dont always insure or hear about.

“Henrietta Stands Nelson, a Lakota woman from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, rides her modern-day pony, a Harley Davidson named ‘Thunder’. At age 51 … she decided to fulfill a life-long dream of riding motorcycle. Today, she participates in long-distance drives to honor various Native American causes, many of which take days to complete.”

But these narratives and people are not going anywhere soon.

“Fort Yates is the tribal headquarters for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which overlaps both North Dakota and South Dakota. The main street in Fort Yates is named after Sitting Bull, a highly regarded chief and holy man of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota nation.”

America has a complicated history with Native Americans, and such projects be available to balance the public narrative by telling inspiring narratives from these communities.

Centuries of stigma and decades of harmful portrayals in movies and television have marred the social, economic, and cultural standing of Native Americans in modern society. But such projects is about taking tiny steps away from clichs and stigma.

One thing we always knew from the beginning was that we wanted the project whatever sort it would take to be something of use to Native and non-Native communities, SeeWalker said.

Cardana and SeeWalker are heading back on the road this autumn, searching for more narratives to tell and new ways to tell them.

Their journey may have changed since it first began. But, throughout it all, they continue to share narratives that inspire and educate, and thats a journey worth celebrating.

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