If diversity is important, why don’t I see anyone that looks like me? When I look at a billboard or an advertisement in mainstream media, what I don’t see is Indigenous representation. I see every other ethnicity but my own.
Diversity has always been a part of Nordstrom's mission and brand. Nordstrom is redefining what diversity truly means and looks like and that is inclusivity of ALL ethnicities. Including two Indigenous models in their latest campaign is a very good example of what reconciliation can look like. Yes, reconciliation goes much deeper than my face on a billboard however, when my face went up across Canada, I knew the message would be loud and clear. We are here, we are relevant, we are relatable and we are reclaiming our spaces. There is a much larger picture and it isn’t my face on a billboard. I don’t think Nordstrom knew they would redefine diversity but, they did. Finally bringing true diversity to the forefront of mainstream media, I hope Nordstrom will expand the inclusion of Indigenous peoples outside of Canada and across North America.
My new friend Tunchai, who I met on set of the shoot, is the second Indigenous model that is claiming space on billboards, commercials, internet and media across North America. When we connected, I learned that we shared similar thoughts and feelings on the entirety of the shoot. We both felt a responsibility to teach, share stories, build bridges and make a change in mainstream industries.
During the shoot, there was a moment I felt uncomfortable. In that moment, I turned to Tunchai for her perspective on having to say parts of the Canadian anthem on a national platform. I then learned she felt the exact same way and from there I learned we were not the only ones. Tunchai, being the strong Indigenous advocate she is, empowered us to really speak up. I was scared to speak up, scared to tell our creative director how I felt, scared of being out of a job, scared of being rejected and scared of being ignored (all valid fears that models face in this industry) but above all fear, I felt strong in my purpose and I stood by my new friends as they stood by me.
When we took a moment to include the creative director in our conversation, we learned that expressing our feelings and speaking up for what we stand for was not as scary as we imagined. He listened, acknowledged our feelings and did his best to understand. He then assured us that our concerns would be taken seriously and would make it up the corporate ladder for immediate attention.
When the shoot was over, the creative director kept us updated with how our concerns were being received. To be honest, I did not think that Nordstrom would redirect the entire campaign. Nordstrom’s new campaign, “We Like Your Style” focuses on individual style and fashion. The redirection of the campaign made each and every one of us feel valued, included and confident in our own skin. Shining light on our individuality and what makes us authentic, empowered us all to embrace who we are.
There were a number of different factors that contributed to the redirection of the campaign and our voices were one of them. This memory is just one story from my experience on set with Nordstrom. My overall experience while shooting the “We Like Your Style” campaign has been both refreshing and inspiring. I was given the opportunity to talk about my personal style, fashion influence and inspiration, signature pieces and go-to clothing items. With that I was able to share a bit of my culture and knowledge on Indigenous fashion. You can read my ‘Style File’ at https://shop.nordstrom.com/content/canada-culture-2
Although it was a shock to have someone I just met stand with us and for us, it also brought a sense of hope and relief. This experience reminded me of the allies, the Canadians who know and understand the true history of Canada. And it is this experience that made me realize we will never know these things if we don’t make an effort to include non-Indigenous people in our conversations. We have allies, we have friends and we have the capacity to share and occupy spaces together while making change.
There has been an influx in initiatives amongst corporations, networks, even small businesses that adhere to diversity and inclusion, specifically in the film, television, media, entertainment and fashion industry. Let’s discuss the many talk shows that have diverse groups of hosts. These onscreen television hosts, men and women, range from 4-5 distinct ethnicities. Almost every ethnicity BUT First Nations.
“As I was doing my interview with @nordstromcanada I couldn’t help but reflect on the many talk shows, entertainment news channels and mainstream media hubs across North America that are inclusive of every ethnicity BUT Indigenous peoples. This is what I meant when I said I want to be a part of that conversation. There should be Indigenous voices on these shows, included in the conversation. Whether it’s conversation about the latest trends, politics, the Grammy’s, Oscars or Beyonce, I believe Indigenous voices and perspectives should be utilized, valued and INCLUDED.” - IG: @michaella.shannon
I often ask myself, “How can their be a Canadian talk show that doesn’t include the perspective of someone who is the original people of the land that they are standing on?” Someone like myself can offer a fresh perspective and contribute new ideas and ways of thinking all while attracting and opening the door to an all new audience.
During my interview with Nordstrom, I made a point of explaining, “The fact that I am sitting right here, right now, is resilience.”
For those of you reading, my advice is to BE silently powerful. Be smart and strategic with whatever you are doing. Know your message, know how you are going to execute that message and make sure that message leaves a long lasting impact. For me, being silently powerful has been much more effective than being loud and noisy. You as an Individual can BE silently powerful but that doesn’t mean you can’t share your stories along the way.
“Most people will look up and think, just another model, just another billboard. But no, it’s an Indigenous model on the biggest billboard in Dundas Square Toronto. I don’t need to say a lot because this alone SPEAKS. This is resilience. Me, an Indigenous woman, saturating the billboards, television, internet, malls, country, and mainstream media is my way of saying we are still here and we are reclaiming our spaces. Next stop? Time Square, New York.” - IG: @michaella.shannon