Siera Bearchell & Ellyn Jade talk advocacy in modelling

QNSA and VCFS collaborate for Indigenous Awarness Week

QNSA executive members and event speakers.
Supplied by QNSA

As part of Indigenous Awareness Week, Queen’s Native Students Association (QNSA) and Vogue Charity Fashion Show (VCFS) invited students on Mar. 15 to hear international Indigenous models Siera Bearchell and Ellyn Jade discuss advocacy as Indigenous women in the public eye. 

As a non-Indigenous person attending Thursday’s event, I was surprised to discover I was still able to identify with the main themes of the night. 

Guest speaker Siera Bearchell is a proud Métis descendant, an identity I’m personally unable to connect to. However, her experience with body insecurity was all too familiar. Similarly, while speaker Ellyn Jade voiced her personal ties to Indigenous issues, that I and likely others in the audience couldn’t relate to, her analysis of prevalent issues in the country resonated with me as a Canadian.

Throughout the event, both Bearchell and Jade focused their discussion on their experiences as Indigenous women in the modelling industry.

Bearchell, Canadian beauty queen and current law student at the University of Saskatchewan, began competing in pageants as a way to support her family following a house fire. She soon discovered the negative side-effects of pageantry in body shaming. She shared a story of when she was told to get liposuction while simultaneously receiving hundreds of comments on social media calling her fat. 

Bearchell recounted to audience members how these comments motivated her to lose weight for the Miss Supranational pageant — an international beauty pageant — in 2015 in which she placed first runner-up. 

Although this was technically a loss, Bearchell said she was glad she didn’t win because she ultimately had the goal of winning only as a true version of herself. Finding confidence and strength in her body, Bearchell went on to be the first Miss Canada Universe of Métis descent in 2016. 

Motivated by her personal experience, Bearchell began using her platform on social media to spread body positivity for women across the world. 

The former Miss Universe Canada left the audience of Thursday’s event with a message: “The most important person to look up to, to love … to be better for, is yourself.”

After this inspiring sendoff, Indigenous actress, model and Two Spirited dancer Ellyn Jade similarly spoke about her experience in the industry.

She recounted going to her first ever fashion show at age six, where she knew immediately it was her calling to be involved in the industry. As an Indigenous woman however, Jade faced severe bouts of racial discrimination, including losing a 10-page editorial job because of her Indigeneity.

This became one of the reasons the actress and model now uses her platform to advocate for Indigenous issues, including missing and murdered Indigenous persons and the high rates of Indigenous children in foster care.  

At the event, co-chair of QNSA Darian Doblej said the main mandate of the group is to reach every student, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Bearchell and Jade were certainly effective speakers to achieve this goal, as they addressed intersectional as well as Indigenous issues.

Ultimately, Indigenous awareness and empowerment were at the heart of the event. When asked who her Indigenous role models were growing up, Bearchell mentioned her great-great-great grandfather as a source of Métis pride. 

Similarly, Jade spoke about her great-great-great grandmother and other elders who were integral to her upbringing. In everything she does, Jade said, she first asks herself if her grandmother would be proud. In this sense, Indigeneity informs Jade’s advocacy. 

As successful, proud, Indigenous women who work in the public eye, both Bearchell and Jade are much needed role models for the new generation of Indigenous youth. 

Thursday’s event successfully opened attendees’ eyes to the different experiences and barriers Indigenous women face in the modelling industry and in greater Canadian society.

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