The artist on Indigenous representation in media and the power of women as community builders
Growing up in Canada, Indigenous artist Sarain Fox didn’t see people who looked like her in mainstream media. Whether it was on her TV screen or in beauty campaigns plastered across billboards, “I didn’t see Indigenous people around me,” she says in a new video for Sephora Canada. “So it was really hard to dream of myself or see myself in this world.” It was this lack of Indigenous representation growing up that makes Fox’s latest role all the more meaningful. The Anishinaabe activist and mom-to-be is one of the stars of the brand’s “It’s The Beauty You Give” campaign, the holiday extension of the brand’s “We Belong to Something Beautiful” initiative that launched last year, celebrating the diversity of all Canadians and highlighting that there is no singular expression of beauty.
But because Fox is someone who uplifts and celebrates her community, she wasn’t ready to take *all* the spotlight for herself. In a November 19 video supporting the “It’s The Beauty You Give” campaign, Fox highlighted the work of Indigenous doctor and community advocate Suzanne Shoush.
Shoush, a Toronto-based physician, has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that Indigenous communities have adequate access to COVID-19 testing and medical support. “I think it’s really important for Indigenous people and Indigenous communities that we have people like Suzanne,” Fox says in the campaign video. “I want her to see herself as worthy of that good work that she gives to everyone else for herself.”
In time for the launch, Fox chatted with FLARE about her work on the campaign, why community builders like herself and Shoush are so important and how far we still have to go when it comes to representation.
What was it like to find out that you’d been chosen to be a part of the “It’s The Beauty You Give” holiday campaign with Sephora?
“I’m always honoured and excited to lift up Indigenous voices and faces, especially in the beauty space.”
What made you decide to highlight Dr. Suzanne Shoush and the work she’s doing?
“If you’ve been following the news, it’s clear this is an important time to have a voice in the systems that are tasked with our well being. Unfortunately, these systems as they are, are disproportionately unsafe for Indigenous patients. Shining light on strong female advocates in these spaces, like Suzanne, is vital for continued awareness and representation.”
So much community building and advocacy is done by women like Suzanne and yourself. Why do you think this is and how can other people support community advocates like Suzanne?
“We can’t separate ourselves from the community. The health and well being of our people is part of my inherent responsibility. In my culture, women carry life and water. We advocate for the peoples’ well being. Suzanne is one of these women.”
Is there a part of the campaign experience that stands out to you?
“During this shoot, we visited Suzanne at the Toronto Birth Centre. I was introduced to one of the community places that’s been created for expecting mothers, like me, to be surrounded by care that accommodates our wishes and cultural practices.”
It’s so powerful to see two Indigenous women celebrating, and sharing, their culture and communities in a major beauty campaign. What did this experience mean to you?
“It means that when you see yourself, you can dream yourself within the world. Representation is an opportunity to give the gift of beauty as you know it. In my culture, beauty is kindness. Kindness can be revolutionary.”
In your conversation with Suzanne, you talk about not seeing yourself—and Indigenous people—represented in the media. What did this lack of representation symbolize to you?
“As the first people of this place, our stories have been paved over. And when everything that everyone knows all around you doesn’t include you, when the stories of this place are defined by someone else, when your contributions are erased, it can make you really angry. Indigenous people have been left out of the narrative of this country. That was on purpose. If we’re not in the narrative, it’s easy to dehumanize us and question our ways. To correct this erasure, our voices need to be heard everywhere you hear voices: on the news, in art, in fashion and in politics. Right now the Mi’kmaq on the East Coast are being fought for participating in the current economic system on their own territory.
“We need our voices representing us in every system. Indigenous people are telling our own stories, re-writing history, singing our songs. We aren’t anthropological beings. We’re living, breathing, thriving cultures.”
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Has Indigenous representation in mainstream media changed in recent years. Even so, what still needs to be done?
“The rise of social media has created greater access and visibility. It has meant that Indigenous people can tell their own stories and create their own content on new channels, like TikTok. You can find amazing dancers like Theland Kicknosway and viral sensations like Dogface. This year, Jennifer Podemski created her own network to showcase Indigenous female creators. It feels like our voices have more places to be heard.”
Growing up, who were your beauty inspirations or idols?
“Women like (filmmaker) Alanis Obomsawin, (singer) Buffy Sainte-Marie, my mom, and my big sisters were the epitome of cool. They are risky and shameless with their Indigenous style. I’m also a child of the 1990s, [so] I stole my sister’s [quintessential ’90s makeup book] Making Faces by Kevin Aucoin. I think my sister, Shannon, gave me every look in that book! I’ve always been in love with style and use it for self-expression.”
When do you feel your most beautiful?
“Outside in nature.”