Growing up on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Kelly Holmes spent hours thumbing through the latest issues of Seventeen or Vogue. She noticed the models didn’t look anything like her and the stories had little to do with her experiences in the vast, sparsely populated area hundreds of miles from any high-end retailer.
So Holmes, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, set out to create her own fashion magazine geared toward Native American men and women and non-Native Americans who want to learn about the culture.
Native Max focuses on indigenous people, places and cultures with the same sleek photography found in fashion magazines but without the stereotypical headdresses and tomahawks sometimes seen in the mainstream media. The premiere issue, which is online only, features interviews with Native American artists, musicians, designers and models, as well as sections on health, beauty and sports.
“There’s really no magazine, a Native-owned and operated, Native-designed magazine. There’s nothing like this magazine out there. The ones that do have stuff focused on younger people, they’re really vulgar and very revealing,” said Holmes, 21, who now lives in Denver.
The first issue of the quarterly magazine features Mariah Watchman as the cover model. Watchman, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation out of Oregon, catapulted to fame in Indian Country after becoming the first Native American woman to compete on “America’s Next Top Model.”
While the magazine aims to present positive role models and uplifting messages, it will touch on controversial topics, Holmes said. In the premiere issue, Holmes interviewed two women who started a campaign called Save Wiyabe Project to highlight violence against Native American women. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates one out of every three Native women will be raped and one out of every four will be physically assaulted.
Rhonda LeValdo, president of the Native American Journalists Association, said Native Max and other Native-focused media show American society that Native Americans are regular people, too.
“They want to be models, movie stars, artists. I think that’s showing the regular side as opposed to that stereotype of just showing us in our dance regalia,” she said.
The magazine’s nine staff members come from all over North America, including the Navajo Nation in Arizona and the Otomi and Yaqui nations in Mexico. Ad director and writer Angelica Gallegos, 20, of Denver, said she has enjoyed learning about new and up and coming Native American artists and musicians.
“I like how we want to involve a lot of people in the community and get ideas from them,” said Gallegos, a member of the Santa Ana Pueblo and Jicarilla Apache tribes. “I also like the aspect of getting to know different artists and Native people around the country and how they’re contributing to their people in different ways.”
But LeValdo, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., said it’s imperative for any new publication to have financial backing to survive. A few years ago, one of her students started a Native American music magazine but was only able to put out two issues before it folded.
Holmes has been searching for grants and investors but so far has had no luck. She said she invested about $1,000 of her own money to get the magazine going but hopes that advertising and sales will keep it afloat and maybe even provide a profit by mid-next year. Beginning in December, the magazine will switch to a print-only format, with issues mailed to subscribers at a cost of $10 each.
Native Max has fewer than 100 subscribers at the moment, but Holmes said she hopes to boost that with fashion events at various locations across the country. She said the obstacles in getting the magazine launched haven’t tarnished her dream of having her own magazine for Native Americans.
“There are Natives out there who are talented,” she said. “… I want it to be inspirational and to show to others, ‘Hey, there is someone out there doing the same thing as me.”