Textile artist Naiomi Glasses brings Gen Z visibility to the Navajo Nation

While Navajo textile artist Naiomi Glasses has been weaving rugs since she was a teenager — and already has a legit business under her traditional Diné belt at a mere 24 — it was her skateboarding skills that thrust her into Gen Z TikTok fame.

The viral post, which features Glasses skating in slo-mo over the red sandstone that blankets her home in Rock Point, Ariz., logged more than 1.8 million views since it went live in October 2020. She conceived it as a fun homage to the original Dreams post from @420doggface208, but instead of a bottle of cranberry juice, Glasses holds a small juice box. And instead of a hoodie and pants, Glasses dons a traditional Diné skirt and her signature turquoise.

@naiomiglasses Just trying to be as cool as @420doggface208 💁🏽‍♀️ #indigenous #fyp #foryou #nativetiktok ♬ Dreams (2004 Remaster) – Fleetwood Mac

“I had just finished up a photoshoot and was all dressed up,” Glasses told In The Know. “So I was out there and I decided, ‘OK, you skate down the sandstone and see how it goes.’ And then it just took off.”

And thanks to that video, Gen Z TikTokers all over the country are getting a glimpse into life on the Navajo Nation, seeing both the traditional and the modern mixed together. They’re also getting an important reminder that Native Americans are very much still here.

“I think it’s important to know that we aren’t something that’s an ancient thing of the past,” Glasses told In The Know. “Some of us, we live on the Navajo Nation, and there are plenty of Navajos who have moved off. You can find us in plenty of modern places.”

That variety also applies to fashion.

“Although I like to dress the way that I dress, not every Diné person you come across is going to be fully decked out in traditional Navajo wear,” she added. “There are plenty who are doing amazing things. We’re multifaceted individuals, and we are just the same as anybody else.”

A way to combat bullying

Glasses started skateboarding even before she started weaving, at a mere 5 years old, to combat the bullying she encountered because of her bilateral cleft lip and palate. Not only did skateboarding give her a sense of freedom, it also just looked cool.

“It would take my mind off of the bullying,” she said. “It would really help me decompress after a long day at school, like if I’m feeling tense or worrying about if someone was going to bully me.”

And that hobby, which started as a way to relieve stress, inadvertently led to a boom in social media followers as well as a boom in business.

“Rug orders have picked up,” Glasses shared. “A lot of people are asking when I’ll be releasing more purses.”

Glasses also collaborated with other companies on several collections of rugs and blankets, with more projects in the works.

The 24-year-old recently partnered with Sackcloth & Ashes on a blanket collection that helps support Chizh For Cheii (Wood For Grandpa), an organization that helps elders on the Navajo Nation. She also created a line of rugs for American Dakota that are not only gorgeously designed but also durable and can handle both spills and, of course, skateboarding.

“It’s been a great experience, especially seeing the difference in how weaving has brought me multiple opportunities,” Glasses said.

The young textile artist learned how to weave from her late Grandma Nellie, who also introduced her to the beauty of turquoise.

“My grandma used to tell me all the time that weaving could provide a life for me, and I didn’t fully grasp that until recently,” she said.

Native American representation

When Glasses thinks about how her sudden fame is impacting Native American children around the country, she shared just how positive the experience has been.

“It just makes me feel excited to see where the representation can go even further for Native children,” Glasses said. “And I think it’s very important because if I had seen someone who looked like me as a Native person and doing big things, I think I would have completely changed how I saw myself for a long time.”

For the young social media star, representation goes beyond even ethnicity.

“I have to think of it also from the space of also being someone who has a bilateral cleft lip and palate,” she shared. “Because I can’t name a single person to you right now that I see in the mainstream media that has a bilateral cleft lip and palate. And so that’s even more groundbreaking for me.”

While Glasses admits she had an “awesome” support system in her own family, including her brother Tyler who takes many of her photos, she said that support could have extended beyond her tight inner circle to what she saw in the media at large.

“I think it would have helped tremendously to see even more Native people being represented and seeing more people with craniofacial differences being put out and forward,” she said

And with more Native Americans in the spotlight these days, she sees that happening, albeit slowly.

“I may not be Chanel’s target audience, but seeing that Quannah Chasinghorse models for them, I’m like, ‘Oh my god.’ She is such a sweetheart. I’m so glad that she’s doing such great things.”

And with TV shows like Rutherford Falls and Reservation Dogs, which feature Native casts, writers and directors, gaining a lot of attention, mainstream audiences are seeing more Native Americans in modern roles.

“I think it is a key turning point right now with seeing the representation of us but in modern times and that letting people know that, ‘Hey, we are still here in the 21st century,’ and this is kind of like a peek into what some of our lives look like. It may not be everyone because I know the reservation’s very different,” Glasses said. “But it’s great to see some light shone onto us in a modern way.”

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