How This Indigenous Model Is Using His Platform for Climate Activism Favorite 



Jan 27 2020


Los Anegeles

Indigenous designers often use fashion to celebrate their culture and raise awareness around key issues affecting their community. Now, the spirit has come to the modeling world. Haatepah Clearbear is a full-time model, based in Los Angeles, who is using his platform to uplift his people. The 22-year-old’s personal Instagram page serves as a hub for his activism work, where he highlights everything from climate change to indigenous rights. In doing so, he often gathers with other young creatives and attends key events, such as last year’s 50-year anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz, which is considered to be a birthplace of the Native American rights movement.

Growing up, Clearbear felt disconnected from his indigenous heritage. He and his twin brother, Nyamuull, were adopted at a young age by two white dads, and they spent much of their childhood in the Bay Area wanting to learn more about their cultural backgrounds. “Me and my brother didn’t even know what race we were for a good amount of time,” Clearbear says. “When we turned 18, we contacted our biological family, and figured out who we really are. We always had a feeling that we were native, we just weren’t exactly sure what tribes we were.”

Around that time, difficulties at home began to arise for Clearbear, who learned he is Kumeyaay, Pai Pai, and Chichimeca-Guamare. One of his adopted fathers, who was encouraging of Clearbear wanting to explore his heritage, passed away from cancer; afterward, his other dad grew increasingly disapproving of the two brothers whenever they attempted to embrace their identities. “All his prejudice came out times a thousand,” Clearbear says. “So, one day we had it, and we moved out.”

At 21, Clearbear and his brother made the move to L.A. “I was homeless for a while,” Clearbear says, adding that he would often stay with his friends or with his brother, who moved in with his girlfriend. He wanted to pursue modeling: He had been discovered on Instagram in San Francisco by the Look Model Agency, and had done a few smaller modeling gigs. Eventually, he caught the eye of the agency Storm L.A., where he’s now been working as a full-time model for about a year now. He has appeared in campaigns for brands such as Nike, Uniqlo, Youth to the People, and Lululemon.

As Clearbear’s modeling career has taken off over the past year, however, he has continued to feel that lingering sense of wanting to connect with his people. As a result, Clearbear has begun focusing on his activism work. “I see myself as a model, but I think of myself as an activist, first and foremost, for my people,” he says. Whenever he isn’t working on shoots, Clearbear is finding new ways to support his community; he often does so through the Indigenous Alliance Movement, a collective of roughly 60 people that he began with his brother.

Climate change activism has been a key focus for Clearbear and the alliance group. In the past, he has attended the Protecting Mother Earth Conference, a gathering that uplifts the voices of indigenous activists who are on the front line battling environmental issues. Last year, he also represented the International Indigenous Youth Council at a climate march in L.A., and performed a water song after delivering some words on the importance of renewable energy. “Environmental issues are at the heart of most indigenous people,” says Clearbear. “It’s indigenous culture to be in balance with nature. To be in balance is to respect the land that you’re on. It’s something sacred, and if you don’t honor it, we’re all going to die.”

Currently, Clearbear is sheltering in place in Los Angeles; he is continuing to use his social platforms to advocate for his culture. “There’s so many ways to communicate with people online—you can reach them in different ways,” he says. Just last week, he highlighted the Guna tribe on his page, and how they are suing Nike for appropriating their traditional patterns. As for future projects, he also plans to travel to northern Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; the Arhuaco tribe recently invited him to travel there to pick and plant cocoa, a practice that currently faces environmental threats. Clearbear says highlighting these types of issues outside of North America is just as important to him going forward too. “There’s a lot of indigenous environmental activists who are being killed or murdered,” he says. “I understand I have a privilege now to even speak about it, being where I am in the United States.”

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Can you give more specific examples of his different projects/events and how they creatively raised awareness for climate change and indigenous rights?