Checking in with Native American Influencer Maka Monture Päki
For artist and influencer Maka Monture Päki, social media has become a tool for storytelling and spreading awareness about Native American rights and cultural appropriation. When she’s not posting gorgeous photographs and poetry on Instagram, she spends her days designing jewelry rooted in indigenous culture. We talked to Päki about what inspires her work and what it means to be Native American today. Plus, she shares her picks for great organizations to support.
How did you got your start in art and storytelling?
I am a Tlingit woman from Yakutat, a small Tlingit village in the northernmost part of southeast Alaska. My mother’s people are the Łingit of Southeast Alaska who settled in Yakutat generations ago after migrating from the north along the Copper River. Everything I am is rooted in my identity as a Tlingit woman. I have practiced Indigenous art in some form since the age of 12, when I began learning Tlingit formline and traditional weaving methods. Over the past 10 years, I’ve continued to develop these creative methods and have modeled for Indigenous artists, too. I've also been very active in climate change. I wouldn't consider myself an activist, though. As an Indigenous woman, I see myself more as a steward of the land.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I love to travel, but nothing beats home. My ancestors have lived in Yakutat, Alaska, for more than a thousand years. It’s a small coastal village above Glacier Bay National Park, about a 50-minute flight from Juneau. I recommend staying at Monti Bay Lodge, then spending your days surfing, fishing, and walking our beaches. (If you go hiking in the woods, bring bear spray!) Yakutat's Cannon Beach is my favorite stretch of sand in the world. If you’re really lucky, you might even find vintage Japanese glass floats or spot seals offshore. I also recently took a trip to Bainbridge Island, in Washington—it was so mystical and left me so curious to spend more time there. Definitely check out Kiana Lodge and Salish Lodge & Spa.
I'll remember the bear spray, for sure! How do you suggest we support indigenous cultures?
There are so many great businesses and artists you can help out. Here’s a quick run down of ones I love:
Trickster Company, an indigenous-owned design shop in Alaska founded by siblings Rico and Crystal Worl that sells incredible prints, home goods, and apparel.
Eighth Generation, a Seattle-based art brand owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe dedicated to 100% Native designs (the company consistently gives back to the Native community, too).
Jamie Okuma is a Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock visual artist and fashion designer from California known for her beadwork, mixed-media soft sculpture, and fashion design.
Planet Alaska, a Juneau-based company, which connects shoppers with Alaskan art, authors, food, plants, jewelry, and clothing.
Orenda Tribe is an artist community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that creates soulfully reimagined vintage and upcycled textiles.
I also recommend Beyond Buckskin, a newsletter and online shop launched in 2009 by Jessica R. Me that showcases and promotes our continent’s first artists and designers.
Wow, these sound great. And what about events? Any we should check out?
A lot of the events have been cancelled because of the pandemic, unfortunately. But two to keep on your radar: Celebration, the second-largest event sponsored by Alaska Natives in the State of Alaska (the 2020 Celebration was postponed until June 2-5, 2021) and New Mexico’s Santa Fe Indian Market, an annual art market usually held every August.
Although a lot has been postponed, there are still ways you can get involved. In Alaska specifically, the Native Movement is a nonprofit that leads grassroots-led projects to dismantle oppressive systems and to ensure social justice, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and the rights of Mother Earth. Native Peoples Action is another great one that strives to give Alaska Native communities a voice in government policy making.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.