Fawnda Bullshields

Runway Resurgence: Fawnda Bullshields Celebrates Indigenous Fashion & Futures

“Our ancestors paved the way and now it's time to shine because we're really being included in all avenues,” beams Fawnda Bullshields, a Blackfoot woman who has been modelling since she was a teenager. She lived on reserve until she was nine before moving to Vancouver so her mom could go to school. She created a community for herself in her new town and that’s how she got to meet established and up-and-coming Indigenous designers and start modelling for them. 

At first, she didn’t know anything about modeling or living in the city but she found the local Indigenous community to be so welcoming. “We're very helpful in any way we can, to the point of, we're going to give you our last resource if you really need more. That support, that's what is integral or kind of embedded within our DNA as Indigenous people, we're just ready to help wherever we can and that's what people did,” she recalls. 

In the modelling space, she found instead of competition a community of people who wanted to help each other succeed. She learned to walk and about the collections and the designers respected her need for modesty as a younger person. Bullshields found everyone so helpful and supportive. Through her modelling school, Pam Baker first taught her to walk the runway and gave her her start. She learned the intricacies of posing to display the outfits, sometimes learning the hard way to avoid turning or walking awkwardly. More recently, she learned to walk in formation through extra classes through Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week.  

When she first started, the ideal figure for Indigenous models was tall and thin, but since then designers have become more inclusive to more ages and body types and it’s all about the culture. After spending time modelling, Bullshields is now an aspiring designer and she dances powwow. She wants to create her own line, learning from powwow designing how to make garments. Her philosophy around modelling is “Anyone and everybody can do it if they have the heart and want to participate.” So far she has three garments for her line, given the beadwork takes a long time. She hopes to be ready within the year to graduate to become a designer. 

"Anyone and everybody can do it if they have the heart and want to participate.”

Being able to do so with her education behind her is something that Bullshields is proud of. She had a chance to take her modelling to another level when she was younger, but she prioritized her education. This was possible as an Indigenous model who isn’t as dependent on her youth for success, allowing her to get her degree without sacrificing her modelling dreams. 

“It's really fun to have both now and to know that I can do a career that challenges me more intellectually, but also having this creative side of designing your own line or still modelling for other people and helping to bring their visions to life,” she explains. With her years of experience modelling as a teen, she does photo shoots for local Indigenous designers and can bring forward their vision so it translates on camera.  

One of the obstacles Bullshields found was that Indigenous models felt they were excluded from mainstream modelling based on their race. Additionally, fitting into sample sizes of 0-4 created body image challenges. The standards weren’t ideal but that’s something she’s seen change, with models working in a broader age range and in the plus size range, or moving into roles like creative director based on their modelling experience. “It is way more forgiving and it's way more about your identity, your culture especially and that is being celebrated and accepted. I've seen elders in fashion shows and that's exciting to me because they are knowledge keepers, they are the ones who carry all the wisdom and they should be included. Indigenous designers include everybody” she reports. 

If she could give a message to her younger self it would be, “If the box doesn't fit for you, then make it fit for you. Because now, we have seen that it doesn't fit for us and we created our own box, and it now fits for many people and it's very inclusive. I just love what it's evolved in within our communities as Indigenous people.”

Illustration by Shaikara David

To maintain her mental wellness, powwow has become a really important part of Bullshields’ life. “I practice going to powwow regularly, because that helps me with my mental health, and also to really reinforce my identity and culture and to continue to be proud of who I am,” she explains. Through powwow night at the friendship center, making regalia, and being guided by powwow parents in protocols and teachings, she’s learned to pray for those who don’t have what they need and to move through hard times. She dances jingle dress, fancy shawl, traditional and hoop dancing and she’s inspired by the way powwow culture is being embraced and admired for the way it takes care of the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. 

“Your whole being is taken care of in that way and then it keeps you going and positive. Also, if you're not feeling good, allow yourself to feel those emotions because it's okay to cry, it's okay to not feel good. But it's also to feel that to release it, and then to move on. I just love that. Having powwow and powwow parents guide me within my culture has really created a really stable person that knows where to go and what I need to do when I'm feeling overwhelmed,” she elaborates. It’s knowledge she is happy to pass on to help others, knowing it clears your mind and creates so many positive things. 

In closing, Bullshields wants to tell Indigenous youth, “Whatever, as an Indigenous person, that you want to pursue, you have any opportunity at your fingertips right now, in this time, in this age. If you want to be a model, go for it because there's so much opportunity and support and culture and people willing to help you accomplish that. But if it's not modeling, whatever it is, it's your time to shine and you're going to be successful at it and you're going to make it and you've got your ancestors behind you. So go for it.” 

“Having powwow and powwow parents guide me within my culture has really created a really stable person that knows where to go and what I need to do when I'm feeling overwhelmed.”

Knowing her ancestors paved the way and that now it's her time to shine, Fawnda Bullshields is stepping into the spotlight and onto the runway toward a future that’s picture-perfect. Encouraged by the way Indigenous people are being included and with the strength of her powwow traditions, she’s creating and modelling Indigenous fashion and strutting towards every dream because she can. She learned to walk in formation and to form her own community and those are skills that never go out of style.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    March 5, 2024
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  • Discussion Guide
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