These two Indigenous influencers are bridging the gap in representation.
"It's sad that there was no representation for me. No one that I could look at and think, 'Hey, she looks like me,' or 'She comes from the reserve.'" Even over Google Meet, actress, model, and Mrs. Universe winner Ashley Callingbull's pain is palpable. Having graced Nike ads and magazine covers, she's one of the faces pushing Indigenous representation to the forefront but she's also experienced the pitfalls of invisibility. "There was no relatability whatsoever," she says of being immersed in mainstream culture growing up. "That's what made it more difficult to even try to create a dream for myself. That's what the industry was lacking. It really did suck at the time."
On-camera and behind-the-scenes, the beauty industry is finally making room for Indigenous influencers and entrepreneurs, but there's a long way to go.
There have been major strides towards more inclusive beauty and style representation this year. For instance, right before her memorable Met Gala appearance last month, Vogue dubbed Quannah Chasingheart one of "modeling's freshest new faces" and over the summer, Sephora Canada launched its first Indigenous History Month campaign and began carrying Indigenous-owned beauty brand Cheekbone Beauty. Though the recognition is well-deserved, it doesn't scratch the surface of what's actually due.
In fact, shortly after launching the aforementioned campaign, Sephora Canada issued an apology for failing to include anyone visibly Afro-Indigenous. Though it's not directly addressing this conflict, an Instagram Reel from influencer and model Kara Roselle Smith, who is Chappaquiddick Wampanoag of the Wampanoag Nation, sums it up: "If your 'inclusive' Indigenous campaigns and conversations don't also include those who identify as Afro-Indigenous, they are not inclusive. We are so often left out of the loop. It is not a coincidence. It is not an oversight. It is colorist. And it is racist." Like many of Smith's Reels, the voiceover plays while she does her makeup. "Being mixed does not and should not invalidate one's lineage or standing within the Indigenous community. Include all Indigenous peoples, not just those who fit the European beauty standard, or don't call your work inclusive at all."
For Smith, representation was scarce even within her own community and deviating from the monolithic idea of what being Indigenous looked like came at a steep cost. "I'm Afro-Indigenous and I present very Black," she explained over the phone. "Oftentimes, I would voice that I was also Native American and children at school would be like, 'No you're not' or 'Are you sure?'"
Exclusion from campaigns can be compared to invalidating questions like these, and they both plant seeds for the erasure of Afro-Indigenous people altogether. "Many people who fit the traditional mold, or the monolithic idea of what Native American people are supposed to look like, don't get questioned the way that I and other Afro-Indigenous creators do," Smith said.
Essentially, it's frustrating stasis and groundbreaking progress simultaneously. Things are changing but the speed and scope can be frustrating. "There's more representation now, but there can always be more," Callingbull, who is Cree First Nations from the Enoch Cree Nation, said. "Just a handful of faces is not enough. It's taken a really long time to get here, but I'm glad we're finally here. There's a lot more Indigenous representation, whether that be in fashion, film—it's really beautiful to see. And it's inspiring because I've never seen that."
Keep reading for five Indigenous-owned beauty brands to support, now and always.
At just five years old, Cheekbone is the beauty brand that you should keep on your radar. As a tribute to her Anishinaabe heritage, founder Jenn Harper set a goal for Cheekbone's lipstick line Sustain to be completely waste-free by 2023. Their pigmented lipsticks are one of Cheekbone's fan favorites, with bold, pigmented hues and sleek, sustainable packaging.
Sḵwálwen's skin care philosophy is inspired by Squamish plant knowledge, meaning that each of their offerings has a botanical base. From Cleansing Clay to Muscle Salve, each of founder Leigh Joseph's creations serve indulgent vibes with all-natural ingredients.
According to the brand's site, Ah-Shí's name is Navajo for "This is me, this is mine, that's me," so naturally, the Indigenous Black-owned brand embodies the essence of feeling yourself, with products including a top-rated BB Cream that takes "your skin but better" to dewier depths.
Prados is inspired by the blending of founder Cece Meadows' vibrant Xicana and Indigenous cultures. The full beauty line features bright palettes and bold lashes. Plus on their website, there's a marketplace where you can shop from other Indigenous-owned brands.
With an eco-friendly ethos, Arianna Johnny-Wadsworth's hand-crafted candles, fragrances and body care are inspired by ancestral medicine. Johnny-Wadsworth launched the brand in 2016, first with candles, then with full-on skin care, developed alongside people of the Coast Salish Nation in British Columba, Canada.
Photo: Courtesy of Kara Roselle Smith and Ashley Callingbull
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