The Influence Agency created the Behind the Gram series to share our platform with Influencers and Creators from within marginalized communities, to give them an opportunity to speak out on different issues that are an inherent part of their story and culture so we can learn from them.
This month, TIA Executive Producer, Brigitte Truong sits down with Lesley Hampton and Scott Wabano, two members of the Indigenous community in Canada and who graciously and honestly share their thoughts on Indigenous culture today, Indigenous representation, and advice to us, as allies, on how we can do better to support the Indigenous community.
Scroll down to read the full transcript of our interview with Creative Director and Stylist, Scott Wabano.
Brigitte Truong: What is your name and what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Indigenous culture?
Scott Wabano: Waachiye! My name is Scott Wabano and my spirit name is Northern Lights Man. I am a Cree from the Eeyou Istchee region, located in Northern Quebec. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Indigenous culture is love and the feeling that love brings to you. Whether you find it within your community, with another person, within yourself, within the culture, within nature – Indigenous People always lead with love. Love is one of our first languages. It doesn’t matter what nation you’re from. Love is something that translates into each nation and that’s something that I always think of when I think of my people and Indigenous culture.
BT: Beautiful, thank you so much for that. Scott, what do you value most about being a part of the Indigenous community?
SW: Something I value most about being a part of the Indigenous community is what it is. It’s community and how we are there for one another, whether times are rough, whether we need that support, whether somebody is succeeding, we see ourselves in that person. We know the background that they may come from, we may face the same or similar hardships that they’ve also faced. That togetherness is what I really value most and just uplifting each other, and learning from each other, and educating each other is beautiful. That cultural exchange between our different nations is something that translated or something that existed for generations now, way before the settlers set foot on Turtle island. That’s something that always brought us together, was community and just the love we have for one another.
BT: Thank you for sharing that. How have you been able to share your culture and your lived experiences in your chosen career path?
SW: I’ve been able to share my culture and my experiences in my career path, whether it be as a fashion stylist, or as a fashion designer, or even as a social media content creator, I always try my best to be myself – authentically and fully.
Let not only Indigenous or Cree youth know, but any youth that could see themselves within me and feel like they, too, have a voice and are able to achieve their dreams. That’s something that I always show in my work – I always let youth know that I, too, come from a really hard place. Whether that be living in isolation, or whether it be living with all of the trauma that, unfortunately, our people are still carrying due to colonization of residential schools. I let youth know that we are able to overcome that because we carry so much resiliency and strength within our blood, more than we do carry trauma.
Whether that translates into a TikTok video or a jacket design it kind of represents that balance of both worlds that a lot of Indigenous youth are facing these days. The Western technological-advanced world, but also holding on to our teachings, our knowledge, and our values that we’ve carried for generations now; I always try my best to let youth know that we can walk in both worlds, and we can succeed in walking in both of them too.
BT: Scott, tell us about a fellow Indigenous creative whose work has had an impact on you personally.
SW: Wow, there are so many Indigenous creatives whose work has really inspired me and impacted my work too, but one person that really comes to mind is Lesley Hampton. I’m blessed to call her a friend now, a sister, a mentor, and a teacher. Before moving to Toronto, Lesley Hampton was a designer that I had just seen in the media. She was the one who was kind of shaking the ground, and shaking the industry, and letting the Western industry know that Indigenous People are still here and that we could succeed in any industry that we find ourselves in.
At the time, there was not much Indigenous representation in the industry, whether it be for modelling, or designers, or styling for instance – we didn’t really see ourselves represented. Lesley Hampton was one of the designers at that moment who was changing that narrative and finally allowing us to see ourselves as Indigenous youth. So, Lesley Hampton all the way, has been a really big inspiration to me as a friend and just like teaching me all of the ins and outs of the fashion industry. Not only that, but teaching me how to sew or just teaching me how to not let social media and all of these fancy things consume me.
As an Indigenous youth coming from a really isolated community, where there are not many fancy, shiny things, we often can get distracted and blinded by all of these things and that these brands bring to us. But Lesley’s really helpful in letting me know who is genuinely there for Indigenous Peoples and who is not. It’s just amazing – I love Lesley – I could go on and on about her!
BT: She’s phenomenal in what she does and as a human being – she really is. Like you said, she’s been this leader as an Indigenous creative in our country because she has cemented herself as such for so many years now, but still remains so humble.
SW: Exactly, yeah. Oh my god, I love her.
BT: She’s a queen. I kind of want to go back to what you had mentioned, you know, coming from a smaller community in Quebec. You had mentioned you didn’t see a lot of people like yourself represented in mainstream media and mainstream creatives. So for you, growing up as an Indigenous youth, what was that source of inspiration for you to become or create a career like you have? Was there a source of inspiration that kind of kept you going?
SW: The source of inspiration that made me want to change and do the work that I do was because of the lack of Indigenous representation I’ve seen in magazines, in media, and on TV. Living in an isolated community, sometimes the media is our only escapism there. It’s our only way to feel connected, and for me, personally, I grew up a very feminine child. I grew up in a place where residential schools really did its toll and people like myself were seen as the devil. I was bullied a lot, not only by kids, but by adults in my own community as well. That was all of the effects of residential school.
My form of escapism was all the fashion magazines, the TV shows, and just looking at the life that I wish I could kind of live – all the red carpet events – I’ve never seen Indigenous representation in that. That kind of fuelled that fire of me wanting to change that. I said, “I want to see me and my friends on these red carpets. I want to see Indigenous models in these fashion magazines. I want to see Indigenous designers all over New York Fashion Week.”
I just want to Indigenize the whole fashion industry because I want any youth who are living in any isolated community, whether it be in Quebec, or whether it be in Peru, or somewhere around the world, if they could see themselves, that’s what I want. I’ve always believed that Indigenous representation is a form of suicide prevention. That’s something that I know, for sure, if we had seen ourselves more in the media when I was younger, if my friends saw themselves, I would have a lot more friends who are still alive today because of that. It’s important to have Indigenous youth see themselves represented, and feel like they matter, and feel like they’re heard, and feel like their dreams are achievable as well.
BT: Thank you so much for sharing that with me – I really appreciate it. Now, social media activism has really blown up since last summer as you know with posts, reshares, tagging, all of that stuff. But to you, what does it mean to be a genuine ally?
SW: What it means to be a genuine ally to Indigenous communities is uplifting and amplifying our voices. Going out and doing that work, and sharing that. Whatever table you’re at, you’re making sure that there’s Indigenous representation there. Not only Indigenous representation but you need to look, is there going to be Cree representation? Is there Ojibwe representation? Is there Metis representation? Is there Afro-Indigenous representation? Aside from that, is there Two-Spirit representation? Is there male, or is there elderly? There’s so much diversity within Indigenous communities, and it’s beautiful to see.
Unfortunately, a lot of brands these days will only cater towards people who look a certain type of Indigenous – that’s kind of how I’m able to filter out who’s actually there and who’s not. But when there’s other brands who actually invite us to the table, not only invite us, but make sure that we’re the ones leading the conversations, we’re the ones leading the projects, we’re the ones sharing the stories and ensuring they’re told the proper and more respectful way. So, just creating spaces for us – by ensuring that that space is created our voices are heard. As well as putting your funds towards programs that you know will help Indigenous People and Indigenous charities – there are so many Indigenous charities out there.
It’s so important that you’re doing the work, that you’re educating your peers, you’re educating your families, and not putting that burden on Indigenous Peoples. We already carry so much in our daily lives. It’s really unfair for non-Indigneous allies to put more burden on us by having us educate everybody all the time about every single issue, when all the information is there. It’s ready for the public, so just take the time to research, educate yourself, and your family, your friends, and uplift Indigenous voices by making space for them rather than speaking for them. Just let them speak for themselves.
BT: That was perfect; if that was you blacking out, thank you again! That was beautiful. You answered pretty much my last two questions too, so it was, “when it comes to learning, understanding, and connecting with Indigenous Peoples, what more can we all do at home?” But is there a book, or an author, or a source of entertainment, or arts that we can tap into to really learn more about the Peoples and the struggles at hand?
SW: There’s a lot of Indigenous art organizations here in Canada, one of my favourites is Native Arts Society, which is actually Two-Spirit owned. They just recently started the Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction. Those are two organizations that are kind of art-led, but they’re also activism-led too, they’re also doing the work for our Indigenous houseless communities living in Toronto or around the world. Also, providing COVID supplies for any other First Nation communities who, unfortunately, don’t have the resources for it.
Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, too, is a great platform to research all of the Indigenous designers here, not only in Canada or North America, but there are also Indigenous designers from Australia! That’s also a way for them to share their stories as well, that’s something I’ve always loved about Indigenous designers. Our fashion is something that’s been with us for generations – that’s how we communicate, that’s how we tell our stories, that’s how we tell our history, and that’s how we tell our family lineage sometimes.
If you look at any Indigenous designer, there’s always a story to be told there, there’s always history to be shared. It’s just up to us to listen, and love it, and uplift it, and share it!
BT: And finally – brands – when it comes to inclusion and representation in national or global campaigns, is there a piece of advice that you can offer these decision-makers before they execute their campaigns?
SW: When it comes to inclusion in national and global marketing campaigns, brands should really invite Indigenous creatives to all of the whole community. Don’t just put them in front of the camera, bring them in as campaign advisers. There are also photographers, hairstylists, creative directors, stylists, designers – don’t just look at showcasing them in front of the camera – think of them behind the camera as well, because we also have opinions. We also have stuff that we want to share that, unfortunately, non-Indigenous producers won’t get.
Pan-Indigeneity [representation] is not happening and that’s super harmful to our communities. Ensuring that there’s not only First Nations representation, but Metis representation, Inuit representation, there’s also Afro-Indigenous representation, Two-Spirit representation is super important as well. That’s something that’s kind of coming back into our First Nation communities now, is the Indigiqueer and Two-Spirit resurgents, and it’s really beautiful to see. Creating that space for us in front and behind the camera is really important.
BT: Wonderful, thank you so, so much for lending your voice and your lived experiences today so honestly, Scott. I can’t thank you enough for being a part of this.
SW: Thank you, Brigitte. It really means a lot and I’m so excited to share my story and see all of this!
Thank you Scott for sharing your personal story and reminding us that representation matters, both in front and behind the camera. Be sure to follow Scott on Instagram @scottwabano and visit their website: scottwabano.com4
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