The Red Road Project explores the relationship between Native Americans and their identity today and how the culture has survived some of the most horrific events in American history. Cultural traditions and language have almost vanished by various attempts at assimilation and Indian reservations stand as third world islands in the biggest economy on Earth. However, things are beginning to change: the connections with the land, with the traditions, the language are some of the tools being used for empowerment and advancement. According to various Native American teachings, “the red road” is the path of the “right things”. It is a fitting title, as I want to illustrate not only the backlash of the struggles but bring forth the strength, sovereignty, and pride among these people.Hopelessness, despair, addiction, suicide are words often used to describe these cultures, but words like pride, inspiration and strong are what The Red Road Project portrays.
"This is not a time, nor day in age for someone to grow up and not know who they are; to live with a loss of identity. Once you know your culture, your language and your traditions, no one can take that away from you. They tried to kill us, they tried to change us, but we are still fighting, we’re still here." Danielle Finn, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe With just 1% of the American population, Native Americans are often forgotten about and struggle to have their voices heard. The recent events in North Dakota, where thousands of people gathered to stop the construction of an oil pipeline, are just another example of a centuries-long history of oppression. The clash between colonizers and Native Americans all began with the land. Linda Black Elk, an ethno-botanist, puts it into perspective: “Native Americans know more about the environment than anybody else because we don’t just live here and struggle to survive, we participate with the earth, with the animals and the plants, they are relatives: they take care of us and we take care of them.” Contrary, the European concept of individual land ownership and property rights brought much conflict to the Indigenous way of life in North America. A series of “Indian Wars”, westward expansion, and several treaties forced America’s tribal people to live on government assigned lands known as Indian reservations. Today they suffer a sort of forced segregation at the very bottom of American society on every indicator; from the 88% unemployment rate to the world’s second lowest life expectancy, Indian reservations stand as third world islands in the biggest economy on Earth. Issues such as addiction, sexual abuse, poverty and the highest suicide rates in the country are just some of the residual scars left on today’s generations and are often the only things highlighted in mainstream media about these rich and dynamic cultures. Combating stereotypes every day and seeing cultural traditions, practices and languages slowly vanish by various attempts of assimilation is quite devastating, yet things are beginning to change. The connection with the land, language revitalization and the passing down of traditions and customs are some of the tools being used for empowerment and advancement. The project features Native Americans from different tribes, all of them strongly connected with their culture and actively fighting to keep it alive: teachers, ethno-botanists, doctors, tribal officers, artists, veterans, activists. They often mention they “live in two worlds”, trying to find a balance between traditional ways and 21st century lifestyle. According to various Native American teachings, “the red road” is the path of respect, spirituality, humbleness: the path of the “right things”. It is a fitting title for this work, as I want to illustrate how Native American cultures had to overcome “cultural genocide” and highlight not only the backlash of the struggles but bring forth the strength, sovereignty, and pride among these people.
Carlotta Cardana is an Italian portrait and documentary photographer based in London. She took on photography while working as a producer in a circus academy and eventually moved first to Argentina and then to Mexico City, where she started freelancing as an editorial and commercial photographer. Her recent personal work explores the issues of belonging and community, whether among young Italians living abroad, couples from the Mod subculture or American Indians. Her approach to portraiture privileges the subject’s experience and stresses the relationship between people and their environment. In 2013, she was named “Discovery of the Year” at the Lucie Awards with her "Modern Couples" series. She was also among the winners of the New York Photo Awards, the PDN Photo Annual, the LensCulture Exposure Awards and the Association of Photographers Open Awards. She was shortlisted for the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards. Cardana’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions around the world – among others FOTOGRAFIA – Festival Internazionale di Roma, Noorderlicht Photofestival, Month of Photography Los Angeles, Kolga Tbilisi Photo, The Powerhouse Arena – and publications such as The Guardian Weekend, The New York Times T Magazine, Marie Claire, D Repubblica, Rolling Stone, L’Espresso, and GQ.