NEW RULERS: HAATEPAH
Meet the Indigenous model that is using his platform to demand recognition for the Indigenous community.
With the modeling industry fastly evolving and becoming more inclusive than ever before, Indigenous model Haatepah is one of many diverse individuals at the forefront, ensuring that change and recognition be made. The Los Angeles-based, 22-year-old model and activist speaks to VMAN about his early beginnings, what inspires him in life, and how fashion can play a role in activism.
VMAN: For our readers who might not know you (yet!), how would you introduce yourself and what you do?
Haatepah: I would introduce myself as an activist and model, as well as an influencer. I am an advocate for Indigenous rights, and I promote the reclamation of Indigenous roots and identity, as well as environmental rights.
VM: So tell us, where are you from?
H: I was born and raised in California, specifically the Bay Area—I reside now in Los Angeles.
VM: Could you tell us what tribes that you are a part of?
H: I descend from the Chichimeca and Kumiai people.
VM: I read online that you were adopted at a very young age—could you describe your upbringing and what it was like to be raised by two fathers?
H: I was adopted when I was one and was raised by two non-native dads—one was more supportive of me relearning my culture, while the other one was more unsupportive and prejudiced. As a kid, I was very quiet and shy—I suffered from PTSD growing up, as well as addictions from my mother’s drug abuse. I was happy at times and at other times confused and curious about my identity as a native person.
VM: What role did social media play in you getting discovered as a model?
H: Social media changed the way Indigenous people are being perceived [and] it also helped me find a voice. I noticed people really cared and ever since [then], I’ve dedicated my time to being authentic in my message.
VM: What’s your personal relationship with fashion? What role do you think fashion can play in activism or awareness?
H: My personal relationship with fashion is very unique—I wear things from my culture and try to express who I am and what I represent through the clothing and styles I wear. Fashion translates well to expressing a message. Showing pride, love, and appreciation is what I always try to keep in mind. Fashion does play a role in activism [because] it helps amplify a true statement.
VM: Aside from modeling and raising awareness about Indigenous culture and rights, what’s something else that you’re passionate about?
H: I’m also passionate about martial arts and wrestling!
VM: What inspires you in life?
H: I’m inspired by Indigenous people all around the planet. They teach and show strength and wisdom [that] the rest of the world hasn’t caught up on, especially towards climate change—we are land defenders in the truest sense.
VM: What’s something about yourself that people would be surprised to know?
H: A surprising fact about me is that I have a twin brother who also models!
VM: How did the onset of the global pandemic change your outlook on life and/or work?
H: The pandemic has been a blessing and a curse. I have grown stronger in a lot of ways and [have] been able to focus but also it’s been difficult being indoors a lot of the time.
VM: What’s the first thing you’re going to do after coming out of quarantine?
H: The first thing I’m going to do is travel and make alliances with other Native people!
VM: Where do you see yourself going in the next 5 years? What do you hope to accomplish?
H: In the next 5 years, I see myself hopefully becoming an actor and doing big things in helping our people and awakening the people into unity through change, in the ways we harm our planet and reconnecting with their roots.