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Cree trans woman. Human rights advocate. Lover of beauty, makeup and all things fair.
On October 4th, a series of Sisters in Spirit vigils will be held nationwide to honour the lives of more than 1200 missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and gender diverse people across Canada. The disproportionate violence against Indigenous people in our country is a national tragedy, and participating in a vigil is only one of many ways we can create a safer, more respectful environment for Indigenous people in our communities. For more information on the SIS Vigil and how you can participate in person or online, click here.
In honour of this year’s vigil, we’re spotlighting Chevi Rabbit, a diversity advocate and makeup artist originally from Ponoka, Alberta. In 2017, Chevi was the first trans person to be named to Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 list in Edmonton—an accomplishment she says validated her decade’s worth of work making Alberta a more welcoming place for gender diverse people like herself. In this Q&A, we chat with Chevi about what the Sisters in Spirit vigil means to her, why she became an activist, and how she uses makeup to express her identity.
H&B: In a few sentences—who is Chevi Rabbit?
CR: I’m an Albertan Canadian advocate for human rights and gender diverse people. I’m a Cree trans woman and two-spirit person who loves beauty, makeup, and all things fair.
H&B: You’re one of the organizers of the Sisters in Spirit vigil in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. What is this event about to you?
It’s 100% about honouring the lives of those that have been lost to a society that, in the past, and even today, is not welcoming toward Indigenous women. When you think about women and two-spirit Indigenous people who have been murdered or gone missing, it’s because they were in vulnerable situations, which arose because society pushed them to the fringes and failed to normalize who they were as people. In a way, it’s sad that we have to have a day to honour these lost lives—because hate and ignorance, within an unjust system, are the reasons we lost them. The event is amazing, but there’s so much more work that needs to be done in terms of systemic changes. We still need to advocate for inclusivity, equity, and space for Indigenous women.
H&B: What’s your specific role in relation to the vigil?
I’m organizing a vigil in Wetaskiwin with the Minister of Indigenous Relations, Rick Wilson. It’s cool because not only is he my MLA but he’s also become a close friend, and I’ve taken on a role within his government. I’m a two-spirit consultant who helps advise The Alberta Joint Working Group on MMIWG—a group working with the Alberta government to implement action items recommended in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The goal is to address calls for justice and build a province that better supports Indigenous girls and women, and my role is to advocate for the gender diverse community.
H&B: Why do you think you became an activist in the first place?
I think it comes from my upbringing and my Cree values. I’m from Montana First Nation and I grew up in Ponoko. My family has been in politics since the creation of that reserve, so well over a hundred years, and I grew up watching my aunts and uncles serve the nation. My uncle, Chief Leo Cattleman, was the longest serving chief in Canada at one time—he served our community for over 40 years. And my grandma, Sarah Schug, did amazing things in the world of childcare. She received a Centennial Award from the Alberta Government for her life’s work. These changemakers in my family inspired me to use my voice not only for me, but for others. They paved new trails and that’s what I see myself doing, too.
There was also an incident in 2012. I was in my fourth year of Native Studies at the U of A, and I was working as a makeup artist for Murale Cosmetics, Holt Renfrew, and as a regional makeup artist for L'Oreal. One day while walking to get groceries I was assaulted—simply because of my appearance. At the time I was expressing myself through fashion and makeup, just really living my best life. I couldn’t believe I’d been assaulted—just for the way I looked. And so I began to advocate for change through a campaign called Hate to Hope. In speaking up, I realized there were so many other people in Alberta who’d been feeling unheard and silenced. And so I went all out to create change for Alberta’s LGBTQ2S community. I rallied with the government, sent out letters, went to events, joined committees, and started speaking at schools and conferences. It was all to make sure people like me aren’t assaulted when all they’re doing is living their best lives.
H&B: Who are some of your role models?
My life is shaped by my mother, Lavenia Schug. She raised me with love, respect and dignity, and encouraged me to pursue my education, dreams and self-improvement. Without this support system I might have been just another statistic but because of the love I received from my mom, family, aunts and cousins, I know I’m valued. In recent years I’ve leaned on my aunty Shirley Rabbit—a respected Cree Elder in Maskwacis Alberta—for spiritual guidance and reconnection with my Cree cultural roots. I find I need to live in two worlds to be successful.
H&B: I’d love to hear about how your interest in fashion and makeup began.
I came out as a gender diverse person when I was very young and it wasn’t a big deal. It was like, oh, that’s Chevi, and Chevi can be whatever Chevi wants to be. And I had this fascination with my aunts, who would always dress up. One of my great aunts loved fur, and another aunty loved to travel the world and bring back all this cute artwork. I loved their elegance and sophistication. I thought they were so pretty and it planted a seed. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with makeup and fashion and beauty.
H&B: What’s your own makeup routine like?
Right now I’m at an age where I need skincare! I think of my face as a canvas that needs to be maintained. It requires love and respect. I really focus on my eyebrows because they’re the architects of the face, and I like to stick to very light, natural makeup. Nudes are my favourite. If I’m feeling lively I’ll put on a bright colour, but I don’t like it to be too noisy. So if I have bright lips I’ll have quiet eyes and less contouring.
H&B: How do you use fashion and makeup to express your identity?
I use fashion and makeup to express my femininity and gender. As a Cree trans woman, I’ve been blessed with very feminine features, but in order to get rid of the hard edges, the masculinity within me, I have to feminize my face through makeup. When I got certified as a makeup artist at Marvel College, I freelanced all over Alberta and worked for every local fashion designer in Edmonton and Calgary. I’ve even worked with women like Ashley Callingbull. She did so much for our community and I really congratulate her for winning Miss Universe. I've also worked with model Michaella Shannon and actress Linsday Willer. Both ladies have done great things for Indigenous representation in mainstream media.
H&B: What’s your favourite way to practice self-care?
I love to go on small, local staycations. I’ll book a hotel and just isolate myself for like three days with a book. I grew up seeing my mom love books—she used them to escape—and she passed that love down to me. My life is so busy, and so it’s good to isolate, recenter, read a good book, and just forget about everything for a while.
H&B: Do you have any guiding words for people facing discrimination or barriers?
Just know it will get better. It will. Create those circles of friends who will support and help you. It takes time to cultivate those kinds of friends, but that’s part of the process of living in this world. The world has an ugly side, but you have to understand how to navigate it, while knowing that as a person you are valued, loved, and needed. Look for role models, positive examples, and become your own advocate. And finally remember that challenges are inevitable. Don’t over-give, and just keep going.