COVER STORY - No Man's Land
The United States Government recognizes Christopher Columbus Day as a federal holiday, but I feel it is time for that to change. Why should we celebrate a man who arrogantly got lost and then manipulated, enslaved, and murdered people? Instead, there is an amazing group of people who were stolen from, and abused, who we need to show respect to. I am calling for a change! We need to start celebrating Indigenous People’s Day! You can see a list of cities that have already started recognizing it as a holiday here. I look forward to New York City joining that list.
This editorial was shot in both Manhattan and in a park in the Bronx, and our native model is wearing modern fashion and modern takes on native traditional fashion to show that a lot of Native Americans are stuck in this limbo. They can stick to their roots and struggle in our world or they have to change everything they are to assimilate.
Despite Columbus setting foot, over 600 years ago, in what is now known as America, the indigenous people are only worse for wear. They were pushed off their lands, experienced one of the largest genocides this earth has ever seen, and those remaining are forced to reside in reserves in less than ideal locations. They are poor, and diabetes and addiction runs rampant in their communities.
Even in these less than ideal places, their land is disrespected by such things as the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has already leaked despite the promises that it wouldn’t. I personally would love to see more done to give back to these people who have been wronged so many times throughout history.
Please continue to read to hear from our native model, Matthew Sinnaeve, and a representative of the American Indian Community House, Iakowi:he’ne’ Oakes, Akwesasne Mohawk, Snipe Clan.
Foreword by Kira Bucca, Editor and Chief of Jejune Magazine.
Interview with Matthew Sinnaeve at Soul Artist Management
How did it feel to be a part of Jejune’s No Man’s Land editorial?
I love the fact Jejune Magazine has established itself as a fashion and art magazine that provides a platform to raise social awareness on a variety of current issues. I was happy to be a part of Jejune’s Native American editorial because I felt it was an opportunity to address issues that have largely been neglected.
What inspired you to model?
That’s a simple question with a complicated answer. I devoted my life to academics and sports growing up; I went to college and got a degree in biology with an emphasis in pre-medicine while playing basketball for Ferris State University in Michigan. For as long as I can remember, my dream had been to become a neurosurgeon, but there came a point in my life where I realized that wasn’t what I wanted and that I have a creative inside of me who I wanted to explore. My desire to help people never left me and I came to the realization that there are other ways to do so outside of the operating room and on a potentially much larger scale.
I’ve always been a visual person and photographs just made sense to me. I had been approached by a number of people throughout my life about modeling, but didn’t live in an area where that was a legitimate possibility. I had a sort of “f*** it” moment and decided to give it my best shot. If people loved me, great, and if not, that’s great too. However, if provided the opportunity, I knew that I wanted to use my image to hopefully do some “good” so to speak. I wanted to challenge the way people think of themselves, the world around them, and even the perception of male beauty. Modeling, however, never has been and never will be an endgame plan for me.
Do you feel that not being 100% indigenous makes you less Native American?
No, I do not. I feel as if similar feelings are shared by people that are multiracial like so many of us are in the United States of America. From what I understand, there are tribes that require a minimum of 1/16th Native American blood in conjunction with proper tribal documents showing which member you descend from. If someone meets these criteria, then they may be eligible for tribal membership. On the other hand, some tribes require as much as 25% Native American blood as well as documentation.
People have suggested that I should do something along the lines of the “23andMe” genetic testing, but I’m not fond of the idea of anyone having my entire genetic code - especially the federal government. Therefore, I will continue to try and trace my heritage the old-fashioned way by going to the local tribal communities.
Moving forward, I imagine that with each generation the tribal requirements may have to be adjusted because, quite frankly, there are so few Native Americans left. However, these types of decisions should be left to the tribes and the tribes alone.
Why do you think there are so few Native American models?
I think there are so few Native American models because there are so few Native American people. As of 2015, Native Americans only made up 2.0% of the total United States population. You have to consider how many of that 2.0% have the physical characteristics (height, dimensions, skin, etc.) of what is/was considered a “standard” model. I say “standard” loosely because we are experiencing a time of inclusivity, thus allowing people from all walks of life the opportunity to be not only a face, but also a voice in this industry.
Do you feel that you are either type cast or tried to look “white”?
Since the day I started modeling, I’ve had people suggest that I would book more work if cut my hair - if I had more of a “gentleman’s” hairstyle - because I would appeal to more commercial brands. Every time someone says something along those lines, the less desire I have to cut it.
Now, when people suggest that I should cut my hair are they trying to make me look more “white”? I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case. I’ve had people tell me I look Native American; I’ve had people tell me I look Asian; I’ve had people tell me I look Latin American; I’ve had people tell me I look white. I think it’s fascinating that everybody seems to see something different in me.
I’m thankful to have the representation and support of Soul Artist Management because they have accepted me for who I am from day one and have never pressured me to be someone I’m not.
What do you think about this feature being released on Columbus Day?
I love it. I don’t believe Columbus Day should be celebrated, but it should be recognized as an opportunity to bring the truth to light. I think it is a grave mistake to try and erase history because, if we do, there is no way to learn from it.
What are your thoughts on Christopher Columbus?
Christopher Columbus did not “discover” the Americas nor did he step foot on North American soil. He was a tyrant and a murderer, that is a fact, and his voyages introduced European diseases to the region. However, one might consider the natives who died from disease to be the lucky ones; others were enslaved, raped, and publicly beheaded. His voyages lead to the death of millions of Native Americans and the loss of ancient cultures. He did so in the name of God in an effort to spread Christianity to the “uncivilized” world.
Christopher Columbus is far from the only one guilty of such atrocities. The United States government has abused, broken, and blatantly ignored countless treaties throughout our country’s history. For example, President Jackson’s “Indian Removal Act” of 1830, which lead to the Trail of Tears and thousands of Native Americans dying on the journey.
Many people - including my father - grew up on Western films. These films often times portrayed the cowboys as the “good” guys and the Native Americans as ruthless savages - the “bad” guys. Given the raging popularity of these films, I can’t help but wonder what that must have done to the public’s perception of Native Americans.
The mistreatment and misrepresentation of Native Americans continues even today.
Does that answer your question?
You grew up near Native American reserves. What do you think of the living conditions for the people living there?
I grew up near Native American reserves, but I didn’t grow up on a Native American reserve, so I don’t feel like it is my place to speak on the living conditions for the people living there.
I decided to visit the American Indian Community House in New York City and was introduced to Melissa Oakes during my time there. I felt as if it was most appropriate for her to answer the remaining questions of this interview.
Additional Interview Questions Answered by Iakowi:he’ne’ Oakes, Akwesasne Mohawk, Snipe Clan, a representative of the American Indian Community House and local designer.
What do you feel needs to be done to help Native Americans?
The truth needs to be acknowledged. Acknowledged in a way that people understand that their privilege and comfort had a price, and that price is, and was my people. When we stop living in a lie and start owning the atrocious afflictions “Americans” have caused Onkwehonwe/ The original People of Turtle Island [Editor’s note: Turtle Island is the name many of the indigenous groups use to describe North America], then we can deal with justice, equality and equity. Until then, America is guilty and Americans are complicit and comfortable with treating us as sub human. Settler-colonialism violence and its constant genocide upon Onkwehonwe needs to be dealt with the same way Hitler and the Nazi’s were. The US has been consistantly stripping our rights, stealing more and more land, raping turtle Island with capitalism poison and neglecting our people. We have the inherent rights to protect our environment, and these rights have not been honoured. If you want to help us, then put in real work, not just a selfie at a protest and a feather in your hair.
How can we show the Native American community more respect?
Acknowledge the truth, be inclusive, teach the truth in schools, rewrite history. Otherwise we are going to have yet another generation of ignorance and bigots. Give us space, safe spaces where we can heal, organize and be who we are. Our culture and language was stripped from us, up until recently. We need the space and support to be who we are without non-natives controlling, culturally misappropriating our regalia, ceremonies, traditions and lifeways. We have had enough taken from us already. If you want to learn about us, learn from us. Refuse the White savior telling you who we are because they have no clue. And if you want to wear our “Native-style” fashion then purchase it from us, refuse the the fast fashion exploitation. Refuse all things non-Native explaining, representing or defining Native/ Onkwehonwe people. Nothing about us, without us.
Why do you think no one is talking about how the South Dakota Pipeline already leaked?
Everything is a trend, the modern day mindset of people is very distracted and overly stimulated to the effect of being desensitized and or distracted. As Onkwehonwe, we already knew this would happen, this is why we stood in the first place, and this why we’ve been standing for hundreds of years. But like the aforementioned explained, “America” has a problem with the truth. The only way “America” will tell the truth is if it can control it. Otherwise it will manipulate, hide, refuse or erase it. Much like it does to the Onkwehonwe people of Turtle Island who you proclaim to be “Native American”. Simple truths, and Vital lies need to be maintained in order to sustain White Supremacy. And this is exactly why no one is talking about it!
Are there any Native American organizations you would recommend our readers donate to or volunteer with?
I would recommend people donate to legal funds for Native Activist Organizations. Donate to local Native Community Organization that are managed by and for Native people. For example I work at The American Indian Community House in NYC, we in the past few years lost most of our funding. We are currently working on fumes, nonetheless working hard to create a safe space for Onkwehonwe to feel supported, create art, celebrate, heal, thrive and connect. Lend your profession to organizations and businesses as a means of uplifting support and creating improvements for the present and future. For example, if you are a lawyer, teacher, artist, retailer ect. Connect yourself and assist Okwehonwe’s in a real way. Real work needs to be done, its not always simple or easy, but working with us you will also have an opportunity to create better relations and a more meaningful connection that we can all benefit form.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
The truth is never easy. First you must acknowledge, repair and then reconcile. Reconciliation does not come first in this case, take a look at Canada, it's just a punchline. I have always protested, marched and stood with my people. I always will, and hope you will too. But I am also heavily involved in creating solution driven programs ranging from Art, Design to economic development. I do most of this on my own with no financing, so I experience the most marginalized and neglected feelings of what it is to be an Onkwehonwe Artist, Designer and Organizer in New York City, and in America in general. Community work takes soul and a lot of spirit, this is what I do and this is who I am. My Mohawk Name is Iakowi:he’ne’, a name given to me in a naming ceremony at the long house by the Clan mothers. I am Snipe Clan, from Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, I travel back and forth to NYC much like my Grandfathers did as Iron-Workers, better known as Mohawk Skywalkers. I teach Native American Art and Design Workshops at The American Indian Community House in NYC, everyone is welcome. Connect with your local Onkwehonwe, protest, make art, know better, do better.
Photography: Kira Bucca Photography
Stylist: Chad Groom and Llewellyn Jenkins for THE STYLEMONSTERS
Groomers: Nevio Ragazzini at Next Artists and Shane Monden at Next Artists
Photo Assistants: Tam Nguyen and Michael Newman
Stylist Assistant: Randy Luna
Model: Matthew Sinnaeve at Soul Artist Management