While resilience, resourcefulness, and leadership among Indigenous peoples is nothing new, meet the 10 Indigenous women leaders trailblazing their way to a better tomorrow, today. Whether in the realm of the environment, education, beauty, fashion, media, Indigenous cuisine, and beyond, these women are affecting change, pushing for a more just world, and leading the way for future generations.
Anishinaabe and Mohawk
Lesley Hampton identifies as a ‘third culture kid’. Having spent her formative years in Canada’s Arctic and Atlantic, Australia, England, Indonesia and New Caledonia, she also defines herself through her Indigenous heritage. Her careful sensitivity to and passion for socio-cultural concepts shows in her designs, which couple with social purpose (just see her 2SLGBTQQIA Jingle Jacket honouring MMIWG2S – the many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and 2-Spirit People). Hampton’s brand was founded with the principles of inclusivity, identity, awareness and heritage at its centre. Her Eighteen Seventy Six line (so named for the year the Indian Act was introduced) featured an all-Indigenous model crew at the Toronto Fashion Week. While she has focused on evening-wear and occasion-wear, Hampton is presently also working on an athleisure line.
In addition to having over 10 years of experience in the field of social services, Nadia George is an award-winning Mi'gmaq actor, as well as an Indigenous rights and youth advocate. She pushes for positive outcomes for youth aging out of care, while her acting roles have brought attention to such critical topics as the plight of MMIWG2S (see the award-winning Her Water Drum). She is also a body-positivity advocate and an active ambassador working with the organization Influencers MotiV8, focusing on mental health and well-being through art, teaching, theatre and film. Most recently, Nadia travelled to Sachs Harbour and Aklavik, Northwest Territories to facilitate wellness, film and art workshops, working with Inuit youth and Elders to document knowledge sharing and traditions.
Ojibwe, Northwest Angle 33 First Nation
For Jenn Harper, makeup became a means of expression that holds transformative power. She started looking into brands that reflected real people (including Indigenous people), were made in Canada, that did not test on animals and that gave back to the Indigenous community. Not having found one, she took it upon herself to create it, and so Cheekbone Beauty was born. Cheekbone Beauty not only offers thoughtfully-named products that highlight Indigenous cultures, women, and experiences, but they also go towards supporting Indigenous youth, working to bridge the educational funding gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students (yes, you read that right, Indigenous students receive less per capita than non-Indigenous students in the public school system). Harper currently lives in St. Catherine’s, Ontario and continues to speak at universities, colleges and high schools about the lasting legacy of the Residential School System and intergenerational trauma.
Peguis First Nation
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Christa Bruneau-Guenther has spent 20 years refining her cooking skills and deepening her knowledge of Indigenous culinary traditions. She has turned this experience into a Feast Cafe Bistro – a Winnipeg West End restaurant featuring modern dishes rooted in traditional First Nation Foods (think: bison stew or bannock pizza). Bruneau-Guenther has been featured on Food Network Canada as well as other publications.
Anishinaabe-kwe, Wiikwemkoong First Nation
Autumn Peltier has been making waves for years for her work spotlighting the lack of clean water in Indigenous communities; while Canada is not a developing nation on paper, the living conditions for many Indigenous peoples and communities suggest otherwise, with boil water advisories persisting in some communities for over 20 years now. At 16, Peltier has already spoken twice at the UN on the issue, and was named the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, representing 40 First Nations, at only 14. She is actively pushing for having more Elders and youth at the decision table when discussing lands and waters, because, ultimately, “we can’t eat money or drink oil.”