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Canadian Model Ashley Callingbull is the First Indigenous Woman in ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Edition

Ashley Callingbull at Canada Day ceremonies at Parliament Hill on July 01, 2019 in Ottawa, Canada
Getty Images

From Edmonton, AB, to Sports Illustrated, Enoch Cree model and former Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull made history last week when she announced she was chosen as a model for the magazine’s infamous swimsuit edition — making her the first Indigenous woman to ever achieve the milestone.

Receiving the call on Mar. 1, Callingbull became one of 13 women (out of thousands of submissions) selected to participate in the annual “Swim Search” photoshoot that provides new aspiring models the chance to meet with those involved in making SI Swimsuit.

With the hopes of being featured in the 2023 issue, the model spent about five days soaking up the sun in Punta Cana shooting campaign photos for the shoot.

Callingbull uses her platform to amplify voices

However, for Callingbull, it appears that success is not just about modelling — it’s also seems to be about finding the power of her voice.

Callingbull has been open about her upbringing, speaking in interviews and her REDx talk about growing up as an Indigenous girl in a community that treated her as less than, having experienced abuse and living among poverty.

As she explained in CTV News, she now has a desire to make a change and to help the lives of other Indigenous women and children facing the same issues she once did, dealing with the results of abuse and intergenerational trauma. “What happened to me, it was because of intergenerational trauma, what was instilled in my abusers, abusers from residential school,” she said. 

Additionally, Callingbull has also partnered on projects with WIN House — an organization that helps victims of gender-based violence.

Related: There’s finally an Indigenous, queer Bachelorette.

Why Callingbull’s representation matters

Indigenous women are often underrepresented in Canadian society, which makes Callingbull’s growing presence in the world of modelling — and her representation of an Indigenous Canadian woman in a space where they are often underrepresented — inspiring to many. Her story can also serve as a reminder that you can be anything you want to be and more, no matter your background.

Seeing people and women who look like you in the media matters, and can be incredibly powerful. It’s the feeling of being able to look upon that stage or to flip open that magazine, to see someone on that cover that looks like you, someone that represents your culture.


Not only this, but, the representation of Indigenous culture limits cultural myopia, and shows the world the importance of cultural awareness.

You may also like: Inuk leader Mary Simon will be Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General.

In light of her recent news, Callingbull has received many messages from Indigenous women and girls, and other women of colour showing their support and appreciation.

Callingbull is one of the many Indigenous women inspiring the youth of the next generation, achieving many firsts in her career.

It is inspiring to many to know this won’t be the last round of firsts for Indigenous women in this space, and while this is exciting news, and a step in the right direction for Indigenous representation — it feels important to also question why it has taken this long to see this progress.

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