The Indigenous rights activist, fashion game changer, and community organizer on the light and power that lies within each of us.
– KEYS SOULCARE
In a former life, activist Amy Yeung was a Los Angeles-based retail executive on the rise. But it wasn’t until she gave it all up — selling most of her possessions and relocating to the New Mexico reservation community of a birth mother she’d never known — that she found her true path.
Today, Amy divides her boundless creativity between organizing with her people and reviving breathtaking items for her upcycled fashion atelier, Orenda Tribe. Here’s how she pairs bold action with big hearted vision.
What does the word “lightworker” and the idea of soulcare mean to you?
It comes from being authentic. Like, knowing who we are deep inside allows us to project that light outward. I feel Alicia personifies that.
What resonated with you about becoming part of the Keys Soulcare community?
When [Alicia] stopped wearing makeup, I’d decided not to about the same time. I’d had a kid, got so busy, and was hitting my fifties. It just didn’t seem relevant anymore to project that image out to the world. I wake up in the morning at sunrise, and that’s who I am all day. I might want to enhance that slightly, but there’s never a time when I feel the need to project a “look.” I think that’s where she’s going with this — really looking at inner beauty as much as projecting outer beauty. It seems to be who she is.
In our recent “Everything Is Connected” video, you shared such beautiful footage from your home community, a Bisti Wilderness-Chaco Canyon reservation just outside of Albuquerque. Tell us more about it.
I wanted to really give you a story about Indigenous voices, because we are so minimized within the beauty and fashion industries. I was super thrilled to take this creative project idea and tell it in an Indigenous way that brings forth our ancestral Dinétah wisdom.
When I say Diné, that’s probably something you’re not used to hearing. It means Navajo [which is the] colonized version of what we’re called by some. That’s what most people know about our tribe, but we’re the Diné people.
(See here for our “Everything Is Connected” video.)
What are some of the rituals grounding your days?
I wake up at sunrise, say my prayers, and set intentions with corn pollen blessings to the mountain; it’s a way to be productive, embrace the day, and be one with Mother Earth.
Tell us about your work.
I own an upcycled apparel brand, Orenda Tribe. I do crazy things with “old souls” and reimagine what they can be — making them relevant, fun, and colorized. Since I moved back to New Mexico [last year], my days are filled with activism, including fundraising and finding solutions to create a sustainable future for my tribe. I’m mama bear to the 31,000 kids that need help right now, be that delivering critical aid or connecting with youth in person.
It’s a weird shift in what I used to do, versus now, but it brings me more joy than anything I’ve ever done.
How has COVID-19 informed that shift?
We faced a terrible crisis in late April and May, when [the Indigenous community] became number one in COVID [case rates]. As a protector and a mother, I felt the need to do something with the skills I’d built over those years of being in the fashion industry. I know how to make things. I know how to source things. I know how to create wealth. I know how to tell stories.
I just really kicked into high gear and started the Dził Asdzáán (Mountain Woman) Command Centerhere in Albuquerque. I said to a bunch of my badass matriarchs, Diné women, and relatives, “Hey, let’s do something.”
To date, we’ve delivered $600,000 in critical aid and a million dollars in kind donations. We fed 42,000 children over the summer at a time when our tribe was facing huge spikes in food insecurity, which is going to be a problem for the next year — or, rather, years.
What lessons is your journey teaching you?
That [as Indigenous people] we need to be better educators of our own story, because it’s not out there. I’ve been back for a year and three months — I’m like a little toddler in Diné years. My sister had to teach me how to tie my moccasins, tie my hair, say my morning prayers, and speak our language.I don’t know that stuff.
So how might someone else learn what’s not taught in schools? I want [to create a space] where it’s safe to ask stupid questions. ‘Cause I get to all the time.
What lessons might you have to share with our soulcare community?
If you have five minutes, an hour, or a spare day, you can be of service to your own community. [Knowing this has] helped me so much through the pandemic, being able to put my efforts into something that created positive light and love in the world. It elevates yourself, and it elevates others.
We hope that this story lifted you a little higher. How are you elevating yourself or others today?