D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai AKA Bear

We catch up with actor–and style icon in the making–D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai.

Emerging Indigenous actor D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai’s (Oji-Cree and Anishinaabe) acting chops and humor were displayed for all to see in ‘Reservation Dogs.’ He’s now featured in numerous articles and stories throughout the web as a rising star to watch. If you know anything about D’Pharaoh, you know he’s not just a young actor sitting comfortably; but he’s a super down-to-earth guy, friendly, and very candid. He also actively utilizes his newfound platform and supports other Native artists, fashion designers, and business owners on another level. Recently, he wore beaded medallions and different Native-made designs to premieres, events, and photoshoots, ensuring that his stylist builds outfits around Indigenous pieces, not the other way around.  

We go in-depth with D’Pharaoh about his style, including how he incorporates Native fashion and art into his outfits, how he relates to his character Bear, his experience working on Reservation Dogs, and much more.  

Native Max: Share with our readers a bit of yourself.

D’Pharaoh: I describe myself as a Turtle Island resident. Here, let me be serious. If you look at my character Bear, I would say that’s very similar to who I am personally.

Native Max: How do you relate to your character Bear? 

D’Pharaoh: In a sense, a lot of reasons. It wasn’t that hard for me to get into the character for Bear. He gives a sh*t about his family and his friends. This idea that they all came up with didn’t even come up with that together. This idea that was given to them that they were trying to work towards, I can understand that as well. The idea of wanting to find another place and run away in a sense that may fix your problems was very much like what I was thinking, my mindset. They want to go because they’re from rural Oklahoma, and it’s an exciting location, but they want to go to California, which is like their salvation. Again, the same thing with me. I’m from Toronto, born and raised, and that’s the biggest city in Canada, and I feel like I’m always searching for something new and better, and that’s what I can relate to them. A lot of other smaller things, too, as well. I can relate to Bear in many ways; I think I like to think I’m kind, too.

Native Max: How do you incorporate native fashion and pieces into your style? How does this allow you to work with Indigenous artists and designers? 

D’Pharaoh: Yes. For example, with that photoshoot [for Reservation Dogs press tour], it was amazing to work with Avo [Yermagyan]; he was very much the best stylist to work with. We did a lot of bouncing ideas back and forth. From the beginning, he was always interested in adapting indigenous medallions into the look. As established and as big as he is, he really hasn’t got the chance to deal with indigenous actors or talents on a scale like this with a show like this. I can also see in his eyes the creativity coming from him when I’m showing him my artwork, my pieces, and all of the pieces I wore, medallion-wise are all very special to me. They were not just bought from a random shop or a random beader; it was very much stuff brought with me. For example, the mukluks; there’s a photo of me wearing my grandfather’s mukluks that were made on my reservation. He only wore them once, and they’re probably like 60 years old or 50 years old, and they fit perfectly, which is pretty awesome. 

Read more of D’Pharaoh’s story in our latest issue.

Cover photo by Jeff Vespa. D’Pharaoh wearing his grandfather’s mukluks and jacket by EMME Studios.