Indigenous Designers Are Growing Platforms for Change

Thunder Voice Hat Co., based out of Long Beach, CA, creates upcycled hats crafted with the artistry of their ancestors using grass, turquoise, sage, and other reclaimed materials. founder Lehi ThunderVoice Eagle designs each piece like it will be shown in an art gallery.

“People have told us we aren’t good enough to exist in these spaces, but the pieces we create show we have just as much talent as those who once listed us as ‘merciless savages,” Lehi said.

Sunset spoke with Cherokee silversmith Kassie Kussman who, “

discovered her knack at a young age, and it became paramount while dealing with dyslexia and the educational struggles that accompany it. She excelled, she says, because there was no right or wrong way.

Yet Kussman’s outlet, one she markets through her Mean Right Hook online shop, was not always rooted in her Cherokee ancestry. Generations of forced assimilation and colonization ultimately left her family devoid of Indigenous traditions. Correcting that injustice, she says, became a priority when Kussman had her daughter.”

“I wanted her to have family heirlooms she could cherish and pass on to her children,” Kussman tells Sunset, “and many more generations to come.”

When asked about his the inspiration for his company he said his “pivot to hat-making came in the wake of a stint helming an art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He admired the flat-brimmed styles worn by Navajo people of the past, a design he personally donned after acquiescing to his father’s many requests to ditch the baseball caps he’d worn out over the years.”

ThunderVoice Hat Co. has developed a following with its collection of custom blankets, jewelry, clothing, and more.

“Even this idea of ‘art’—we didn’t have a word for that,” ThunderVoice says. “It was just a piece of our existence. What we consider arts and crafts today were just the way. There is no separation, and when you remove that, it removes the purpose of why we kept those symbols through boarding schools and through assimilation.

“We hold onto these pieces, because the symbolism is us.”

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