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Why Tribal's Ashley Callingbull Is "Fighting Every Day" For Indigenous Representation

Former Miss Canada winner Ashley Callingbull opened up about her "intergenerational trauma" and giving back to her Cree Nation community during E!'s video series celebrating Indigenous heritage.

By Samantha Bergeson Nov 01, 2021 9:10 PMTags
Watch: Ashley Callingbull on Indigenous Lives Matter: Ones to Watch

Ashley Callingbull has achieved many firsts, but she has spent her life making sure she is not the last. 

The former Miss Canada winner and proud Plains Cree Indigenous woman from Cree Nation and Treaty six territory has dedicated her life to "positive representation" as a model, actress, author and activist. 

"For a lot of my life, a lot of the things that I've had to chase, they weren't open to me because I'm an Indigenous woman, whether that be acting or modeling," Callingbull exclusively told E! News on Nov. 1 in honor of our "Ones to Watch" video series celebrating Indigenous heritage. "And I've been told that, you know, [that] Indigenous people aren't relatable, so we're not going to cast you, which is such a crazy thing to hear. Now, times are changing and things are becoming more inclusive, it's been too long to get to this point." 

Callingbull continued, "My culture really shaped me because I always had this thing about, 'Well, why can't I do this? Why can't I?' I had this thing like, 'I'm going to prove myself.'" 

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"I wasn't going to prove the world that I could do if I wanted to prove to myself," she noted. "I wanted to feel good about myself because I didn't have anyone empowering me. I had to empower myself. And once I push myself and accomplish something, I thought, 'What else can I do next?'"

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The Nike Dress for Success ambassador is publishing her first book with HarperCollins next year, and hopes to change stereotypes for Indigenous women as well as shed light on the "intergenerational trauma" that plagues many alums from residential schools. 

"What I really want is our government to stop fighting these survivors. These people who went to these schools stop fighting them because we do need to really move forward in a way where we can take our lives back, take our control back," Callingbull stressed. "It's so important that people see the truth, see the country that they're living in and what they're standing on, and the importance of how our culture really save lives, because that's what these residential schools were implemented for. If they were to take your culture away, to kill the Indian, what they called it, and they wanted to civilize us."

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She added, "So when you see an indigenous person, next time you look at them, you know, think that they may be dealing with intergenerational trauma, they may be dealing with things that the government the system has thrown at them. So you never know. We never had it easy and we still don't. And I think that's one thing that people really need to be educated on is that we don't have it easy. We're still fighting every day." 

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Callingbull's upcoming role in crime series Tribal also works to de-bunk cultural assumptions and shed light on the thousands of missing Indigenous women.

"I'm really thankful to be part of a show that's going to address these issues because a lot of times the media pushes it aside and because we're not women who are white," Callingbull stated. "I just want people to know that, you know, our lives are important. We are worth being searched for. It just boggles my mind still, to this day that there's that lack of support, and that's why it's so important for me to use my voice." 

Tribal also works with a largely Indigenous cast, which Callingbull admitted is rare. "For me, it's so important to share the true education about Indigenous people, so they don't have this stereotype on me on set, or they don't have this belief that they're going to call me Pocahontas and make all these references because that's really ignorant thing to say and it's offensive," Callingbull spoke about her acting career. "So for me, I always take the opportunity to educate people."

She reflected, "For a lot of my life, a lot of the things that I've had to chase, they weren't open to me because I'm an Indigenous woman, whether that be acting or modeling. And I've been told that, you know, Indigenous people aren't relatable, so we're not going to cast you, which is such a crazy thing to hear. And now that times are changing and things are becoming more inclusive, it's been too long like it took too long to get to this point."

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Callingbull concluded, "It's quite remarkable because as a young girl, I never had dreams to do what I'm doing now and to see that they came true. I want that to happen for other indigenous youth as well. I want them to find that within their lives, and for me, I'm just trying to pave the way. So my Indigenous pride is something that I carry with me everywhere that I felt. And I want everyone else to be proud of their heritage as well, because it's beautiful. For me, it's all about taking people along with me as well. Yes, I may be the first and a bunch of different things, but it's so important that I'm not the last." 

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