Jourdan Bennett-Begaye
Indian Country Today

There is one queen Indigenous people are bowing down to this week: Quannah Chasinghorse.

The 19-year-old Hän Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota model has been the talk in Indian Country for the last few days since she modeled for various shows during New York Fashion Week. But she blew up Indigenous social media Monday and Tuesday. Even Kris Jenner took notice and was the first one to approach her on the carpet, Chasinghorse’s mom said.

Chasinghorse graced the red carpet at the 2021 Met Gala in New York City in a gorgeous gold lamé gown by DUNDAS X REVOLVE with layers of Diné turquoise jewelry, which was *chef’s kiss*.

“It was amazing to be able to be there and represent Indigenous people,” Chasinghorse told Vogue’s fashion writer Christian Allaire, who is Ojibwe. “Before I got to the Met, I was listening to Native music and artists to help me feel more empowered, and I was extremely excited to show the world the beauty of Native indigeneity.”

She certainly owned it, said her mother Jody Potts-Joseph, Hän Gwich’in, over the phone.

This year’s gala theme was American fashion and independence, meant to celebrate the opening of the “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibit at the new Costume Institute. (Leading up to the event, there were whispers of hope that no one would display a some sort of cowboy-and-Indian outfit.)

But Chasinghorse conveyed the core of this year’s theme with the help of stylists, hair and makeup artists, and, as her mom says, a team of aunties (and the matriarch, her grandma was present).

How did Chasinghorse choose her outfit and accessories?

Potts-Joseph said her daughter was invited to the gala by fashion designer Peter Dundas. (A technical note: since the event is a fundraiser, designers buy a table for lots of money.) Dundas also dressed Ciara, Mary J. Blige and Megan Fox for the gala.

Quannah Chasinghorse attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" exhibition on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Quannah Chasinghorse attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" exhibition on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Dundas sent ideas to Chasinghorse and “we kind of all gave feedback and stuff, and the final design was selected,” her mom said.

Chasinghorse had several fittings and at one of the final fittings last week, everyone talked about what accessories would go with the outfit, Potts-Joseph said. They thought mixing metals would be fun. The designer and the team asked about Native artists with collections.

“I said, ‘I can do better than that. I know Miss Jocelyn Billy. She was former Miss Navajo Nation,’” Potts-Joseph recalled. “‘She has a jewelry collection that would knock your socks off. And she's got the most amazing pieces of various artists, and let me call her.’”

With the designers, a Vogue editor, and team in the background, Potts-Joseph got on FaceTime with her best friend from college, Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw. Billy-Upshaw has known Chasinghorse her entire life since Potts-Joseph gave birth to Chasinghorse in college.

“So all these people we just got on the phone with Jocelyn and she brought out her jewelry collection. And you know, we talked and then we all just decided let's fly her out here with her collection and just see what we can come up with out of all these pieces. So we just layered a bunch of pieces.”

Her aunt, who flew to New York from Arizona, said many of the pieces were made by artists in the southwest that she bought, were gifted or family heirlooms.

Quannah Chasinghorse getting her makeup done. (Photo by Jody Potts-Joseph)

Chasinghorse grew up on the Navajo Nation up until she was eight years old. “She really wanted to honor that connection by using her auntie Jocelyn’s jewelry,” Potts-Joseph said.

“Indigenous aunties are important in our families and our communities and Jocelyn just is the Indigenous auntie of all Indigenous aunties and she's really special,” Potts-Joseph said.

Billy-Upshaw marveled at the “integrated systems of creativity” in the fashion industry that were needed to create magic like hair and makeup teams, photographers, accessories, stylists, and all the works.

Stylists and the team completing Quannah Chasinghorse's look. (Photo by Keri Oberly)
Former Miss Navajo Nation and auntie Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw with stylists and the team completing Quannah Chasinghorse's look for the 2021 Met Gala. (Photo by Jody Potts-Joseph)
Fashion designer Peter Dundas poses for a photo with Quannah Chasinghorse before the 2021 Met Gala. (Photo by Jody Potts-Joseph)

There was one moment when Chasinghorse was getting ready before the gala where Potts-Joseph had tears coming.

“It was just so powerful to see her just owning it. She had so much grace,” Potts-Joseph said. “And she's also very humble. But she also was very much owning the moment like, ‘Yes, I belong and it's just not me doing this. This is about my ancestors.’ It was just all these things. It was just, I can feel it.”

The moment was even more emotional with the matriarch/grandma Adeline Juneby Potts present. “My mom and Quannah have an incredible relationship.” Plus, former Miss Navajo Nation and former Miss NCAI, Potts-Joseph was crowned back in the day, were present.

It was Indigenous royalty dressing and styling Indigenous royalty.

“It just got to where I actually just cried. I had tears coming. I had to stop crying. I had to look away because they just ruined her makeup and her look, but it was just a beautiful, powerful moment,” Potts-Joseph said.

Grandma Adeline Juneby Potts had just arrived from the airport to New York Fashion Week. (Photo by Jody Potts-Joseph)
Quannah Chasinghorse, Hän Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota. (Photo by Keri Oberly)
Quannah Chasinghorse was part of a panel about representation and identity in fashion. (Photo by Jody Potts-Joseph)

Besides the gala, Chasinghorse also brought awareness to Indigenous talent during New York Fashion Week as a panelist in a roundtable focused on representation and identity in fashion. Chasinghorse signed a contract with IMG Models, an international modeling agency, in December. You may have also seen her on the cover of Vogue Mexico in May.

(Related: Alaska Federation of Natives declares climate emergency)

Her mom said while people may view her daughter as “this model and this beauty,” she also has depth to her.

“She also is the type of girl that will chop wood and she makes fried bread, and she hunts and fishes and she loves doing beadwork, she made her own moccasins with my mom,” Potts-Joseph said. “Her heart really is in protecting the land and our way of life more than anything else and so she's very much using this platform to make these statements about our people.”

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