Young Indigenous woman hopes her experience as a model will inspire others

Constance Lake First Nation’s Hailey Sutherland hopes her walk down a catwalk at a Toronto fashion show will inspire young people from her northern Ontario community. 

Hailey Sutherland says young people from her community often don't get to dream big

A young woman stands in a park with flowers in the background.
Hailey Sutherland says she is glad she stepped outside of her comfort zone and applied to model at the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival in Toronto. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

Constance Lake First Nation's Hailey Sutherland hopes her walk down a catwalk at a Toronto fashion show will inspire young people from her northern Ontario community. 

Sutherland, who has worked as a teacher in her home community and is now studying psychology at Laurentian University, said she almost didn't apply to model at the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival.

"I'm plus size. I have a postpartum body. I didn't really believe in myself," she said.

"I applied five minutes before the deadline time. So I just got the courage last minute and I sent in photos, my measurements and everything, and a few weeks after that I got an email saying that I have an audition in Toronto, so it was very exciting."

Sutherland had never modelled before, but she was able draw on her dance experience to help her showcase clothing made by Indigenous artists. 

"I felt like my kokum was there and I just had to bring that confidence out because I've suppressed it for so long because of my postpartum journey," she said.

Sutherland said many young people from her community feel as though they don't have a lot of opportunities and can't afford to dream big.

"Even in urban settings as Indigenous youth, we feel like, oh, we want to do this and we want to do that, but how can we start? Where can we go? And I want to be able to help and guide them," she said.

An Indigenous approach to fashion

Sage Paul, the executive and artistic director with Indigenous Fashion Arts, said it has been rewarding to see how the organization has inspired young Indigenous artists with an interest in fashion.

Indigenous Fashion Arts hosts its festival and fashion show every two years.

"We take a very Indigenous approach to the work that we do," Paul said.

"It's very community-oriented. It's collaborative in its approach and very reciprocal in its approach, unlike the fashion industry, which is based around capitalism."

Paul said a large number of the designers they've featured come from smaller communities and First Nations across Canada. 

"Getting to see all of our communities, you know, be so empowered in their own body and their own skin is really hopeful," she said.

"It's beautiful, it's inspiring. And so I do hear that a lot from the designers, to the models, to the attendees. We get really beautiful stories back from even really young girls who are in elementary school."

A young woman from Constance Lake First Nation found confidence this summer as a model. Hailey Sutherland now wants to inspire young people back home to make their dreams come true. She spoke about her experience with the CBC's Kate Rutherford.


Jonathan Migneault

Digital reporter/editor

Jonathan Migneault is a CBC digital reporter/editor based in Sudbury. He is always looking for good stories about northeastern Ontario. Send story ideas to

With files from Kate Rutherford