Filmmaker named role model by Mattel challenges toy giant to create Cree Barbie
Sonya Ballantyne starts petition in hopes company will create new doll Indigenous youth can identify with
A Manitoba writer and filmmaker is urging the creators of Barbie to come up with a Cree version of the iconic doll because she says it's important Indigenous youth see themselves reflected throughout society, and that includes in toy stores.
Mattel, the company behind Barbie, recently selected Sonya Ballantyne as one of 60 Canadian female role models.
Ballantyne, who is Cree and from Misipawistik First Nation, near Grand Rapids, Man., said she doesn't like being the centre of attention but was thrilled to be selected.
"When I was a kid there was nobody like me who was in such positions as this … it was very easy for people to ignore Indigenous people," she said.
"I ultimately chose to be considered to be a role model just for the kids like me who would feel good to see somebody like themselves in a Toys R Us setting or Barbie's website."
After the selection she issued a challenge to the toy giant. She started a petition asking Mattel to do more to recognize Indigenous girls and women.
"The reason I started the petition is because little girls were asking me, 'Can I get your doll soon?' And I'm like, 'Well, sorry.… My agreement, my stuff with Mattel, I don't get a doll.' And they're like, 'Why?'"
Ballantyne advocates for better representation of Indigenous people in media.
She loves comics and sci-fi fantasies, and recalls gravitating more toward the scientist Barbies when she was a kid.
As far as the petition goes, she just wants to see Mattel release a Barbie her children can identify with.
For example, the Barbie could be modeled after Ashley Callingbull, the 2015 Mrs. Universe winner from Alberta's Enoch Cree Nation, said Ballantyne.
"This could be anybody, just girls that have done amazing things, just to inspire kids, because it's still very hard to be an Indigenous person in Canada," she said.
In being selected as a Mattel role model, Ballantyne joined the likes of the first commercial woman pilot in Canada, and another woman who advocates for more women in the trades who were also selected.
"It is a really, really cool honour, like seeing some of the women that they've chosen is really amazing," said Ballantyne.
In 2005, Mattel came out with Inuit Legend Barbie, and in 2017 it rolled out a hijab-wearing Barbie inspired by American Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. The latter doll was released in 2018 as part of the company's "Shero" line of Barbie dolls designed to recognize women who break boundaries and inspire girls.
- CBC Archives: Meet Inuit Barbie (2005)
With files from Avi Jacob