Talaysay Campo, a 23-year-old Indigenous woman has been modelling for 10 years—since she was scouted at 13 on a ferry in British Columbia. During that time, she’d get photographs back from shoots and she’d notice her skin tone was “five shades lighter” than in real life.
“I ended up talking to photographers, saying it didn't look like me and it upset me, and I’d get into conflicts with agents and producers. It took a toll on my emotions,” said Campo, a member of the Squamish and Sechelt Nation and Indigenous to the Picunche Tribe people in Chile Valparaiso.
It didn’t help that growing up, she didn’t see big name Indigenous models in mainstream media like Cree model Ashley Callingbull and Inuvialuit model Willow Allen, who are inspiring Indigenous youth today.
These are just two of the problems that a new, all Indigenous modelling agency, co-founded by one of Campo’s mentors, former model and Cree woman Joleen Mitton, is trying to fix.
Mitton, who also founded Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, and co-founder Patrick Shannon, a 32-year-old photographer from Skidegate on Haida Gwaii, recently launched Supernaturals, a modelling agency exclusively for Indigenous talent. It’s likely the first of its kind in North America.
“Indigenous world views are needed...Just seeing someone who likes you on screen, runway or anything can change an Indigenous person's life: You matter, your traditions matter,” Mitton said.
“I just want to be the support for them that I never had in the industry—it’s a messed-up place.”
Based in the Vancouver area, Supernaturals officially launched this month, with eight models including Campo already listed on the site. The models represent several nations, such as Cree, Dene, Sechelt, Salish, Squamish, and Métis.
“We are seeing that so many Indigenous models aren't being represented the way they need to,” Shannon said, so Supernaturals aims to change that. They will eventually bring on talent who represent diverse body types, ages, including elders, and more.
Supernaturals will, of course, help models refine their skills and build their portfolios, but it’ll also offer support that goes beyond that, including access to counselling services and a bootcamp that mentors Indigenous creatives as they move into bigger cities and navigate the industry.
“It’s a community with accountability and we will bring in elders and healing,” Shannon said. “It’s working with models, building relationships, and making sure they have a support system."
The agency will also assess clients on a case-by-case basis, Shannon said, to make sure they’re respectful and align with Indigenous values. Extractive industries like pipeline and oil companies, for example, typically don’t fit the bill, he said.
Alicia Hanton, a Chilliwack-based model in B.C. and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, was in the foster care system for 10 years and is now represented by Supernaturals. She also credits Mitton, who does a lot of outreach work with Indigenous youth, for mentorship. For her, Supernaturals break barriers and “shows our own people and the world we are capable of being beautiful, not broken.”
In Canada, over half of youth in care are Indigenous, even though only 7.7 percent of children in Canada under 14 are, so Hanton wants to use the visibility she earns as a model to spread awareness about Indigenous youth—and for youth to see themselves reflected.
“With a lot of agencies, you don't see people of colour even, let alone Native people, so we want to create this environment where we are being nurtured and we’re strong Indigenous models,” Hanton said.
One of Hanton’s biggest goals is to travel and modelling is a great avenue for that, she said.
“That'd be really big for me: To see the world and gain that worldview and bring it back to the community, so when we send our people abroad they can handle it.”
Campo is also using her ever-growing platform to advocate on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous women, even pledging to donate half of her prize money to MMIWG crisis efforts if she wins the 2021 MAXIM Cover Girl competition. Since Supernaturals’ soft launch in December, she has already modelled for Roots Canada and has gone to casting calls for Artizia and Lululemon.
When Campo is in the middle of shooting, she often shares stories and teachings that she grew up with, with photographers, assistants, and others on set. That way, her upbringing and culture shapes how the photoshoot turns out. “I want to make a change not just for myself but for my people...I’m always trying to rep so much of where I came from,” Campo said.
Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.