The powerful set of portraits at the basis of this project were selected as a finalist in the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2016. Discover more inspiring work from all 39 of the winners and finalists.

The “Red Road Project” is a collection of photographs and stories exploring the relationship between Native American people and their identity today.

The photographs tell a story of what it means to be a Native American in the modern day and how the culture has survived some of the most horrific events in American history. Cultural genocide is the buzz term often heard in Native American history; yet the true history and identity is not often unfolded to the masses.

This project intends to highlight many tribes across the country and to depict just how resilient these indigenous people are, through their inspiring messages and positive actions of saving their culture. The project’s name, “red road,” comes from the concept of taking “the good path in life,” encouraged and taught by various Native American spiritual teachings.

Issues such as drug abuse, alcohol addiction, poverty, crime and the highest suicide rates in the country are just some of the residual scars left on today’s generations. While the objective of this project is not to highlight all of the known issues and historical trauma of the Native American people, it is important to discuss those topics because it puts into perspective how much this subculture of people has had to overcome. Hopelessness, despair, addiction, suicide and loneliness are words often used to describe this culture, but words like beauty, inspiration, peace, kind, and strong are what “The Red Road” portrays.

—Carlotta Cardana