A Plains-Cree woman from Frog Lake First Nation is making waves with her modelling and television work. Twenty-three-year-old Michaella Shannon has been modelling since she was 14, and is still processing seeing herself on a billboard in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square.
“It is a very proud moment for me, and my family, and my community. It’s a little surreal, a little weird to see myself everywhere, not just on a billboard at Dundas Square,” says Shannon.
This kind of honour is something Shannon has been working towards for nearly a decade. She’s done fashion weeks in Vancouver, Toronto, London and New York. She models for Nordstrom, a chain of luxury department stores, and hosts a paranormal show on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) called The Other Side.
Shannon has worked very hard to get where she is in what she calls a “cut-throat industry”. She says her family is supportive and proud of all the work that she does and remarks that it’s hard to find someone like her in the mainstream media.
“It’s amazing to see an indigenous face in mainstream media, especially for such a large corporation like Nordstrom. It’s not something that’s normal, it’s not something that’s seen. I’m pretty sure I’m the first indigenous model to have her face on a billboard in Dundas Square.”
When Shannon was growing up, she didn’t see faces like hers in the public eye and in mainstream media. She says that she didn’t think it was possible for her to achieve that type of career. Shannon believes that being visible in mainstream media will help other indigenous youths believe they can have dreams like hers, and help the media become more accepting of indigenous people.
“For indigenous youth, it provides hope and lets them know they are worthy and that those opportunities are achievable for them. It gives them inspiration. In the mainstream media, it informs people that we can share an occupy the same spaces. We can work together.”
Shannons also has goals outside of her modelling career. After noticing a lack of indigenous hosts on breakfast and entertainment television, Shannon wants to change that. She says the lack of indigenous peoples hosting on television is not a reflection of Canada’s population.
“These kind of networks are all about diversity, yet you don’t see indigenous people on their network. You see every other ethnicity except indigenous peoples. That’s not true diversity, especially in Canada, especially in North America.”
Shannon emphasizes that the industry is hard to make it in, but believes indigenous people can tough it out. She says her people have struggled before, and hopes they can draw inspiration from their struggles to achieve their dreams.
“The resilience and strength for this industry are in their blood and DNA. They’ve endured a lot harder things and should remember to channel that energy and never give up. Use any negative feedback as motivation; I’ve experienced a lot of bullying and racism but I’ve used that to push me to reach my goals and be successful.”