For every model there is opportunity. Most use it as a way to travel, to learn and be surrounded by creative people. For some, though, being a model brings with it a chance to make a statement. Discovered by casting director Daniel Peddle, Haatepah is a new face from California. Haatepah is also an activist determined to use his opportunity to raise awareness about the issues faced by Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Photography Benjo Arwas for MODELS.com — Clothing model’s own. Model Haatepah @ Storm Management (Los Angeles)

By Daniel Peddle
“My partner at The Secret Gallery, Drew Dasent, and I were looking for indigenous talent for Riccardo Tisci back when he was at the helm of Givenchy. I came across Haatepah first through social media searches as there are almost no First Nations models represented by modelling agencies in the major markets. We have been at the forefront for the push for diversity in fashion for over two decades and it is so exciting to finally see big improvements being made but still, indigenous models are missing from the rainbow. So when I found Haatepah’s soulful face I was really inspired. You can feel the power of his story just by looking in his eyes. He’s Kumeyaay, Yaqui, Apache, Athabaskan and Chichimeca. He’s also six feet tall! We became friends and I quickly learned he is much more than a great looking guy. We really hope to be an ally in helping him gain the kind of notoriety that fashion could bring him. This could be a powerful tool in his efforts to raise awareness about the injustices his people face.”

People working within fashion come from such a diverse range of backgrounds. I’m always curious about where someone is from and what kind of life they have led up until this point. So what is your story? Where are you from and how would you describe your upbringing and life so far?

Háawak! I’m originally from the Bay Area and I was adopted at a young age. I grew up yearning for knowledge of my culture and an understanding of what it means to be Indigenous in my own homeland. I grew up facing discrimination, which fueled a lot of insecurities as a youth. But I quickly learned to combat this and healed myself through sports, Indigenous ceremony and community.

My life so far has been a roller-coaster ride. Becoming a model and using the little platform I have to advocate has been instrumental in helping my people and spreading awareness through the organization my brother and I co-founded: Indigenous Alliance Movement or I.A.M. for short.

It’s obvious from your Instagram that you are strongly connected to your heritage and involved in activism. What is an issue that has affected you the most on a personal level?
One? There are so many . . . I would say the recent happenings with families getting separated and put in detention centers is one that resonates with me. Especially seeing history repeat itself considering what happened with Indigenous people in boarding schools and the missions in California in the last centuries.

Cultural appropriation by fashion brands and/or people in the public eye is something that has drawn a lot more criticism in recent years, much more than it did in the past. But not everyone understands why addressing it is necessary or why people are offended by it. Can you give some insight from your perspective?
I think cultural appropriation in fashion is a problem because it is an erasure of Indigenous voices/culture. It’s copying things we hold very sacred to us. It’s hurtful to see something copied without permission and disenfranchises our people and our struggles.

What are some ways people can educate themselves about issues like indigenous rights or become involved with/support the cause?
Learn about our organization and get involved with Native community and ceremony. For those outside the United States, reaching out goes a long way. Sometimes the best thing you can do for Indigenous people is just to listen and let them share their voice. Don’t interrupt or speak for us, just listen and open your mind and heart. Come from a place of understanding. Go out of your way to research and try looking for information from Indigenous sources.

Quick Questions

How did your career in fashion get started? Have you always had an interest in the industry?
I wasn’t always interested. I was discovered by Daniel and then got turned on to it. So far so good. I’m happy to have the opportunities I’ve had and hope they continue to grow.

What is the biggest misconception people have about you as a person?
The biggest misconception people have about me is that I’m a self-absorbed model! But I always put my Community and Family before myself.

Who was the first artist to make a big impression on you?
That would probably be John Trudell. His words resonate deeply with me. I stand with a lot of what he says and speaks about.

Who was the last artist to make a big impression on you?
My partner Glenda Hernandez Quezada. She inspires me because a lot of her art deals with identity, which I find very powerful.

What has been the biggest surprise or learning curve in the industry so far?
Definitely learning patience. I’ve learned to be patient with photographers making their art. I really appreciate all the effort that goes into their photos.

What motivates you?
My people and Ancestors motivate me. As well as my family and my brothers.

What keeps you up at night?
Probably my insomnia, haha!

What/who is under-appreciated?
Our Elders are under-appreciated definitely… also those fighting for environmental rights on the frontlines.

Name three artists you wouldn’t mind being compared to:
John Trudell, Maya Angelou, Eddie Spears.

What’s the best experience you’ve had in fashion?
The best experience I have had in fashion so far was working with Patricia Morales and Damon Baker.

What project are you working on now/next?
Currently, I’m going to be doing a Western shoot… more details to come! Thank you for this opportunity! Tlazocamati!


Follow Haatepah on IG – @_haatepah_
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Comments are now closed for this article

  • Soooooo refreshing to hear such a smart model with a mission. I found this interview very interesting and he has indeed a huge potential, I hope he makes it big because he truly has amazing features and I also feel that his message would speak volume in the society we are living in right now. Peace and good luck Haatepah :)) Best.

  • Angelo Northrupp

    Happy to finally see a very diverse new, kindred spirit to revamp the modeling world