Michelle is a social media creator and Indigenous advocate who uses her social media platform, where she reaches over half a million followers, to raise awareness for issues faced by Indigenous communities, and to share insights on ancestral practices – from jingle dress dancing to beading. Michelle is a Nehinaw, or Swampy Cree, member of Bunibonibee Cree Nation, also known as Oxford House, located north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
BonLook is proud to collaborate with Michelle and other changemakers who advocate for change and representation. At the heart of our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is our belief in the importance of educating ourselves and advocating for change, namely concerning issues that Indigenous communities face today.
And now, get to know Michelle through an interview we recently did with her!
P.S. You'll find a list of resources to support indigenous communities in Canada below.
Michelle, can you tell us about yourself and your advocacy work through your social presence, @indigenous_baddie?
I live in Winnipeg and I’m a Nehinaw (Swampy Cree) member of Bunibonibee Cree Nation, also known as Oxford House, a community of about 3,000 people roughly 575 kilometres north of Winnipeg. I’m a social media creator, and I’ve decided to use my platform for advocacy for issues that affect my community. On my TikTok and Instagram, you will find me sharing moments from my everyday life, but I also share things about my community’s traditions, including jingle dress dancing, which I’ve taken up over a decade ago. I also bring up issues and causes that are important for Indigenous Peoples because I think social media is a great way to raise awareness and educate.
What made you want to use your platform in that way?
Growing up, there wasn’t much inspiration or representation for Indigenous people in anything mainstream, or in anything, really. I went through a rough time when I was young, and my younger self couldn’t express herself the way she wanted to. I felt stuck. I lost my grandfather a decade ago and that was a moment where I realized I wanted to remain connected to my culture, to my elders, and I wanted to share that ancestral knowledge, while also healing myself and learning more about my own People's traditions.
But then I would be watching other Indigenous TikTokers like Sherry McKay and Theland Kicknosway who shared their culture in such a positive way. I also saw Indigenous activists rise up against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet'suwet'en territory… and all these moments aligned and made me want to be part of the movement.
You now have appeared in campaigns with brands like ours, and more recently Sephora. What does representation mean for you?
Never did I imagine I could walk into a store and see an Indigenous girl or woman in the window, as part of a brand’s campaign. When I first walked into BonLook and saw myself, along with Shayla Stonechild (another Indigenous social creator and advocate), it was a dream come true. This means little girls who couldn’t see themselves represented in any marketing or media, now see their older sisters and can dream about what they want for their future. It means we are finally starting to be seen.
You use your platform to address many issues that Indigenous communities face today. In your opinion, which of those issues most crucially needs to be in the spotlight right now?
I’ve spoken about many issues, from clean water access to missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, and recently the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools across Canada. It’s important to know these things are not in the past, they are happening today. Indigenous people were almost wiped off the land and we had to fight and survive to still be here. There is also ongoing racism and discrimination towards Indigenous people, and Canadians really need to recognize that. Things are changing very slowly and that’s why awareness, representation and education are so important. Enough is enough.
How can Canadians who are not Indigenous support your work, and that of other Indigenous advocates, and through them Indigenous communities across our country?
I think education comes first. As Indigenous people we can’t be responsible for all the free labour that comes with providing an education to non-Indigenous people. Learn about Canada’s true history of colonization, of annihilation of Indigenous people. Listen to what we’re saying and amplify our voices. For those who can influence representation, give us space… in marketing, in TV, in film… everywhere we haven’t been seen, and everywhere we can be seen. And make sure we are paid properly for our work. Join efforts to protect our land, because Indigenous communities have been fighting to protect the environment for centuries now, and it’s our bodies on the front lines, protecting our water, our forests… which everyone benefits from. Write to your government and ask that things change.
What is something you’re looking forward to in the next few months?
I’m excited for things to change, for more Indigenous people to be represented everywhere. On a personal note I’m looking forward to being part of more impactful campaigns, including with BonLook! Modelling is my dream, and if I can help raise awareness for Indigenous Peoples and our culture, even better!
Resources to support Indigenous communities in Canada
Indigenous communities need our support
There are a number of pressing issues facing Indigenous communities in Canada, from the clean water crisis to residential schools or missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
Clean water crisis
Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right. Yet, as of February 2021, 61 Indigenous communities in Canada are under long-term drinking water advisories, half of which are still standing unresolved after more than a decade. The oldest advisory that is still in effect is on the Neskantaga First Nation. They have not had safe, drinkable water since 1995.
The most common of all long-term advisories is the boil-water advisory. This means that all water must be boiled for at least 1 minute prior to use: before drinking, brushing teeth, cooking, and bathing for infants, toddlers, and the elderly.
Ways to support:
Missing and murdered women, girls, and two-spirit people
There are close to 10,000 active cases of Indigenous murdered or missing women, girls and two-spirit people in the US and Canada, from the last 30 years alone. That works out to almost one person going missing every day.
Nearly 50% of all cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people go unsolved.
This only scratches the surface, this crisis needs resources, visibility, and action. Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals are 5 times more likely to experience violence than any other population.
Ways to support:
Impacts of colonization
Colonization is the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples to the European way of living. Individuals were cut off from their traditions, culture, languages, spirituality, and governance. Families were separated, and children were sent to residential schools where they faced some of the most heinous conditions imaginable.
Those who survived the cultural genocide returned to their communities with high levels of trauma and little to no resources to cope. The echoes of this trauma continue to impact generations of Indigenous people and communities.
Ways to support:
- Speak out against colonial practices still happening today, look out for land violations, 'development projects,' and Indigenous pacification and repression.
- Support Indigenous organizations focused on healing for intergenerational trauma, like Here to Help, and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
Several projects threaten to impede on Indigenous territory while also impacting our forests, water and land, destroying fragile biodiversity and having devastating effects on the environment. Indigenous communities have been putting their lives on the line to protect land and water. From old-growth forests to pipeline projects, learn more about what’s at stake and get involved.
Indigenous protected areas must receive legal recognition, and Indigenous nations must be involved to support Indigenous-led land-use planning.
Ways to support:
- Do your research and sign petitions that take a stand against the creation of pipelines and against the clearing of old-growth forests.
- Donate to both grassroots and large organizations leading the charge like the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources and Greenpeace.
- Volunteer in your community to preserve land.
- Spread the word, share information so that others can join the important movement.