8 inspiring pics from two women on a mission to break Native American stereotypes.

Carlotta Cardana and Danielle SeeWalker first met in Fremont, Nebraska, in 1998.

At the time, they were both new students at the local high school: Cardana was an exchange student from Italy, and SeeWalker, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, had just moved to the town with her family.

Since then, they've remained friends despite living on different continents.


For many years, Cardana and SeeWalker talked about working on a creative project together.

Carlotta Cardana and Danielle SeeWalker in the winter of 2015 during an exhibit of The Red Road Project in Verona, Italy. Photo by Francesco Biasi.

But it wasn't until a random night in 2013 that they finally decided to commit.

Both women have journeyed to understand each other, and then to understand SeeWalker's Native American heritage together, over the past 20 years. But with this new project, they wanted to take that journey one step further: to the heart of America’s past, present, and future.

They decided to call their project the Red Road Project, a collection of stories that explore the relationship between Native American people and their identity in modern society.

SeeWalker, a writer, and Cardana, a photographer, made plans to travel to different communities all over America and record these amazing stories using images and words.

Dancers take a break in between songs at United Tribes Powwow in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

They were both fascinated with Native American culture and history, so the project was a natural next step. “Danielle had always told me stories about her family and Native American culture in general, and I found that her stories were completely different from what I’d usually see in the media, which tends to focus on the negative issues,” Cardana said in an email.

First, they talked with SeeWalker's family and met others at community meetings. Then their project blossomed.

“From there, it was an organic growth through word of mouth. One person we spoke with would refer one, two or a handful of people and it grew from there,” SeeWalker said. And they have found this to be the most effective way of growing their project.

But they soon realized that their journey couldn’t just be an inward look at themselves; it was also an opportunity to inspire and educate the world with these positive stories. “I think during our second trip (summer 2014) it became clear that we weren’t doing this project just for the two of us, but that all the people we met had put their trust into us to get their story out there,” Cardana said.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Linda Black Elk, of Catawba and Mongolian heritage, dedicates her life to wild plants found in and around the Indian reservations. Not only is ethnobotany her career, but it’s also her hobby and her life. As a child, her grandmother would teach her all about wild plants; which ones to eat, ones that could be used for medicine and how to prepare them. Today, she continues to pass that knowledge onto her people and has recently written a book titled Watoto Unyutapi (Plants That We Eat)."

Three years later, they have talked with many people from tribes and nations across the country.

SeeWalker recounted one of her meetings: “One gentleman that we met while on the Wind River Reservation lived in a time where there was no running water or electricity.  He told us what it was like getting a refrigerator for the first time and how it was so much ‘fun.’”

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Ula and Tim Tyler belong to the Eastern Shoshone tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. They have been living on the reservation since before the introduction of running water and electricity. They have been raising their great-granddaughter since she was very little, teaching her about 'the traditional ways.'"

Some of the people they have met told them about the potential loss of important cultural heritage.

We met with one tribe (Mandan) and were told there was only one fluent speaker left alive; once he passes, the language dies too," SeeWalker told us. "It is so heartbreaking because language is the center of the entire culture: the ceremonies, the traditions, and the way of life.  There are many initiatives actively in place to promote younger generations to learn the language and keep it alive.”

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"A flag waves outside the Holocaust Museum in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Wounded Knee Massacre was one of the biggest tragedies in Native American history and it was triggered by Chief Sitting Bull’s death. After forcing Native Americans into reservation life, on December 29, 1890, the US army killed almost 300 Lakota men, women and children. The massacre marked the end of the so-called Indian Wars."

But above all else, these stories are about where Native Americans have been.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"This bald eagle claw staff belongs to Desert Storm war veteran, Hanson Chee. The feathers represent each year he served in the military and the beadwork honors his father and grandfathers whom also were war veterans. The eagle claw was a gift from his father-in-law who caught the eagle while on a hunt."

And where they are going.

Fast Eddie (left), a powwow dancer, is pictured with social media celebrity Two Braids. Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

These stories are about the fabric of an America we don’t always see or hear about.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Henrietta Stands Nelson, a Lakota woman from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, rides her modern-day horse, a Harley Davidson named 'Thunder'. At age 51 ... she decided to fulfill a life-long dream of riding motorcycle. Today, she participates in long-distance drives to honor various Native American causes, many of which take days to complete."

But these stories and people are not going anywhere soon.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Fort Yates is the tribal headquarters for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which overlaps both North Dakota and South Dakota. The main street in Fort Yates is named after Sitting Bull, a highly regarded chief and holy man of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota nation."

America has a complicated history with Native Americans, and this project hopes to balance the public narrative by telling inspiring stories from these communities.

Centuries of stigma and decades of harmful portrayals in films and television have marred the social, economic, and cultural standing of Native Americans in modern society. But this project is about taking tiny steps away from clichés and stigma.

“One thing we always knew from the beginning was that we wanted the project — whatever form it would take — to be something of use to Native and non-Native communities,” SeeWalker said.

Cardana and SeeWalker are heading back on the road this fall, searching for more stories to tell and new ways to tell them.

Their journey may have changed since it first began. But, throughout it all, they continue to share stories that inspire and educate, and that’s a journey worth celebrating.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."