Fashion designer Karonienhawe Diabo’s latest collection celebrates the spectrum and beauty of identities in the LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit communities.
The inspiration behind the collection at She Holds the Sky Designs was mainly the components in Kanienkeha’ka culture that are important and have great significance. “The wampum, which once represented our currency, mended relations between other nations and now is a part of our regalia,” explains Diabo (Kanien’keha) of the inspiration. “The sage, which is medicinal and spiritual, and the flint that represents Mohawk people as a whole.”
Diabo did this collaboration with photographer Samantha Wenniseriiostha Pepin, which had been a few months in the making. “She had reached out a few months ago to create something important, and what better way to show our support as allies to our two-spirit friends and family than by doing a shoot in Kahnesatake pines?”
The models are Indigenous to the area and include Wahatehontsatshén:ri Delormier- Mohawk of Kahnawake, Jade Mccomber- Mohawk of Kahnawake, Angel Diabo – Mohawk of Kahnawake, Haley Rebecca Robinson- Cree, Karonhioko’he Doxtater- Mohawk of Kahnawake, Steven Thompson-Oakes- Mohawk of Akwesasne, Tahatie Diabo- Mohawk of Kahnawake, and Tiana Brisebois- Mohawk of Kahnawake.
For model Wahatehontsatshén:ri, the reason for doing the shoot is because they’re finally proud of their queer identity. “I struggled to accept myself thinking I would disappoint my friends and family, but at the end of the day, they wanna see me happy and thriving, and that’s what I’m doing. Being my most authentic and happiest self.”
Kentsienó:ron (Steven Thompson) took part in the Pride photoshoot to connect, celebrate, and raise awareness of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ communities. “Pride Month is a time to celebrate our history and resilience. In many Indigenous cultures, Two-Spirit people were once held in high regard as sacred beings who possessed both the wisdom of women and the strength of men. They played important roles in their communities as healers, spiritual leaders, and frontline warriors,” Steven explains. “However, with the arrival of European settlers, Two-Spirit people began to be persecuted. They were forced to assimilate into European cultures, which often meant suppressing their identities. This led to a great deal of trauma and loss for the Two-Spirit people. Today, Two-Spirit LGBTQ+ people are still fighting for acceptance and visibility. Pride Month is an important opportunity to celebrate our resilience and strength. We are here, we are queer, and we are proud!”
Content creator and model Haley Rebecca Robinson (Cree) loves She Holds the Sky, which inspired them to be in the shoot. “[I] have always wanted to model for them but never had the chance until now,” they explain. “I love working with other queer and Two-Spirit folk like me. I feel like, as a kid, I didn’t have a lot of that representation myself growing up, so now, as an adult, I love being able to be a part of the representation now for our queer/Two-Spirit youth.”
As a Kanien’kehá:ka person and someone part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, Tiyana Brisbois knows firsthand the lack of representation. “Being able to showcase my diverse identity in this project meant so much to me because it was a chance to celebrate our resilience, beauty, and strength, giving the younger generations an example of who we can be. Ourselves.”
“I’ve had visions of being amongst this land with my camera in hand for a long time,” says photographer Pepin, who is from Kanehsatà:ke Mohawk Nation. “I’ve dreamed about sharing the beauty and rich landscape that remains in Kanehsatà:ke through the lens of Life In Full Bloom.” Pepin was inspired by She Holds The Sky Designs and admired the work Diabo had been doing over the last year. “This season’s representation of Indigenous Pride was incredibly close to my own growth and identity as a Mohawk woman from Kanehsatà:ke. Being able to share this space with every single beautiful relative from this photo shoot has been an unforgettable experience, one I will be forever grateful for. This photoshoot expresses how much Indigenous pride, love, beauty, strength, and resilience can be limitless and can be shared and expressed in so many colors, shapes, and forms.” For Pepin, capturing these pieces by She Holds The Sky Designs was the best and most perfect way to celebrate and recognize Indigenous culture, heritage, achievements, and contributions of our ancestors. “Having been a part of this photoshoot has paved the way towards the preservation and revitalization of our Indigenous languages, traditions, and knowledge systems. Indigenous pride challenges stereotypes, promotes understanding, and fosters positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Coming together for this photoshoot meant that through my lens, I could showcase our cultural identity, resilience, and pride that courses through all of our veins. It could not have been possible without models Angel, Haley, Jade, Karonhio’kohe, Steven, Tahatie, Tiyanna, Waha, and designer, Karoniénhawe.”
Read more about and shop She Holds the Sky Designs here.