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Fishing Lake First Nation woman is living her dream of walking the runways

From the rez to strutting on the major runways, Heather Strongarm is living the dream that she had always hoped for.

“I love going to different places and meeting new people. I’ve made really good friends in cities I never would’ve thought I’d meet them in,” Strongarm said. “I love travelling and seeing the world … because growing up, I never thought that I’d be able to travel to the places that I’ve been to.”

Strongarm is an up-and-coming model who got her big break at the age of 16.

Jack Bridgland / Vmagazine

Strongarm was first discovered by ANM Management, a modeling agency based in Toronto. Norris-Bere said a Calgary agency hosted a model workshop for Indigenous people where attendees learned runway skills and photo movement. Images of Strongarm were sent to ANM Management from this workshop, and they instantly wanted her.

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“We were just obsessed. …  (We) couldn’t stop thinking about her. She was just so special,” said Anita Norris-Bere, founder and director of ANM Management.

“We literally got a couple of digitals of her and started promoting them to clients, and she was just an immediate success. … She took off immediately.”

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“One of the major agencies in the world was basically telling me that Heather was basically one in a billion.” Norris-Bere recalls. “To find that type of girl, especially her ethnicity, her look and everything … she is so, so special.”

Ilya Lipkin / Versace

Strongarm lives a busy work schedule, travelling globally and working with a lot of big brands in New York, Paris, Milan, London and Los Angeles.

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Living the glamorous life wasn’t always like that for 18-year-old Strongarm.

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“(I had) social anxiety … about leaving my reservation,” she said. “It was really hard trying to be more open to people, like meeting new people, and it still is but I’m getting better at it. It was hard traveling alone at first. My mom actually went to my first few jobs with me when I was 16, but after that I’d just been traveling by myself.”

Aside from other models in the industry who have mentored her throughout her career, Strongarm said her mother Krista Mears is the biggest role model in her life.

Heather Strongarm of Fishing Lake, Sask., appeared on the cover of Vogue in 2023. Photo credit: Krista Mears

“She’s a strong woman. Growing up, she was a single mom, so she was always doing things (and) making sure I was (getting to) places on time or watching over me,” she said. “She’s really strong, and I admire her for that.”

Last year, Strongarm appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine, an experience that she would never think would happen for her.

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“I was shocked. I didn’t think I’d ever see myself on a magazine before, so it was getting really hyped,” she said.

Seeing Strongarm’s career moves have captivated the attention of Ashley Callingbull-Rabbit, who was the first Canadian Indigenous model to be crowned Miss Universe in 2015.

Indigenous model Ashley Callingbull models the MMIW red dress. Courtesy: Ashley Callingbull

“It makes me really happy to see a lot of Indigenous women chasing this path and this dream in the fashion industry, or pageantry or acting,” Callingbull-Rabbit said. “Representation means everything, and to see a young model like Heather (Strongarm) really dominating the fashion industry, that’s going to open so many doors, not just for her, but for others as well, who are chasing the same dream. I really applaud her on what she’s accomplished.”

Callingbull-Rabbit said that when she first started in the fashion industry, it was rare to see Indigenous girls and women in this profession. But nowadays, it makes her happy to see young budding models like Strongarm making big waves in the fashion world.

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“It’s that positive ripple effect of knowing that you can accomplish these things and you can make the dream possible no matter where you come from,” she said. “I wish it didn’t take so long to have this Indigenous representation in the fashion industry. I feel like we should have been acknowledged a long time ago. I feel like now it’s time our people are rising, and we’re really being seen and heard.”

As Strongarm’s career continues to flourish, she hopes to see more Indigenous girls and women in this industry.

“Don’t be scared of opportunities and to just go for it because you never know what could happen,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Indigenous models, designers participate in New York Fashion Week'

Indigenous models, designers participate in New York Fashion Week

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