A longtime partner of H&B, Ashley Callingbull joined us to talk about the many exciting things in her life. She just signed a book deal, she’s going to be the first Indigenous woman to model for Sports Illustrated, and she recently collaborated with us on the new Ashley Callingbull Collection.
In a very special Know Her, Ashley talks to us about the significance of her Cree and Blackfoot names, and how the experience of growing up in poverty gave her the drive to chase, and accomplish, some of her wildest dreams. You’re going to want to get to know her.
What aspects of your identity are you most proud of?
Probably my culture all around. There are so many beautiful traditions and beliefs that have shaped me, and there's a lot of strength that comes from my culture. I love the spiritual part of my life and going to sweats and ceremonies, and I love dancing at powwows. I'm really proud of the resiliency that runs through our blood. It gives me strength in every part of my life.
"I'm really proud of the resiliency that runs through our blood. It gives me strength in every part of my life.”
Have you had any experiences at any of those ceremonies that really stuck out to you?
The first time I ever danced at a powwow was really significant to me. I won all my princess titles at my powwow on my reserve. I never knew I would be competing in big international pageants later in life. It's crazy that my pageant career actually started through my culture.
"I’m fiercely independent and driven because of the life I had.”
I also did an editorial campaign shoot at the same arbor where I started dancing. It was so cool to go back and be little Ashley again—she would have never even dreamed of doing something like that. Growing up in poverty really humbled me. It made me thankful for everything that I have. Coming from a place where you have nothing and no dreams changes you. It makes you want to work harder. I’m fiercely independent and driven because of the life I had.
That's so neat how things came full circle with the pageant.
I know. And never in a million years would I have thought of doing regular international pageants because pageants on the reserve are so different. You’re showcasing your culture, your language, and your community. But I always wanted the crown!
Where do you feel the most like yourself?
Honestly, probably on the reserve where I'm from. That's where all my family lives. It's like over 300 acres of land in the middle of nowhere, and that's where I get to see all my favourite Alberta sunsets. It's quiet. I just feel at peace because that's where I grew up. That's where all my memories are.
Were there any significant life events that gave you a better grasp of who you are?
Definitely. I was invited to speak at Harvard University and that was surreal. They wanted to hear me. After I finished speaking and got the reactions I did, I thought, wow, my voice is really powerful, they want to hear it at an Ivy League school. Now I speak at stadiums of 20,000 people. It’s all just helped me realize how much my voice resonates with people.
Who were your role models when you were young?
My mom was always my number one role model. My mom and my grandmother raised me to always be proud of who I am. They gave me the love I needed.
I also really love and idolize Buffy St. Marie. She's really done it all, and she's still doing it. When I went to compete at my first international pageant, I experienced racism at a whole different level. I don't know what Toronto newspaper it was, but this was back in 2010, and they wrote something really gross about me. They made a joke because I was the only Native woman competing. They wrote, “Oh, what is she going to do for a talent? Chug Lysol or something?”
I reached out to Buffy because she was in the public eye. I told her what I was experiencing and that I wanted to sing one of her songs for my talent. I thought, there's just no way she's going to reach back out. But she did.
I really needed someone, and she took the time to reach out to me, call me, tell me all these things that I needed to hear. She lit a fire under my ass. It made me want to do what she was doing—chasing big dreams and helping women. If she didn't give me that strength, who knows if I would have pulled through that, right? And still to this day we're in touch. She's more than a role model. She's a friend.
You must have a lot of people looking up to you now. What sort of advice would you give to them?
I always encourage people to love and live fearlessly, and to always love and appreciate themselves for the way they were created. I want you to love yourself regardless of what you think your flaws are. Those are the things that make you different. And when I say live fearlessly, I mean never live in fear of chasing your biggest or smallest dream. Go big, show the world what you're made of.
"I always encourage people to love and live fearlessly, and to always love and appreciate themselves for the way they were created.”
What are you excited about lately?
So many things. Wow. I'm really excited about the official Ashley Callingbull collection coming out in September. I've been working with Hillberg and Berk since probably 2018, and I get to have my own collection now. It's exciting because I get to share a piece of myself with everyone and also the story behind it. Also I'm going to be the first Indigenous woman to become a Sports Illustrated model, and I just signed my first book deal with Harper Collins. So I have a book coming out in 2024!
Did you ever go through any interesting phases as a kid?
I was always super nerdy. Everyone knew me as the science fair geek. I was just so proud of what I could figure out and what I could put together on display for everyone, and I loved presenting it. It’s funny because now I present at a lot of shows. I'm currently a CFL host. I guess it was always there, that want to be in front of an audience. Like if I ever found a camera, I would always start recording myself, pretending I was doing on-air shows.
Is there anything you do that other people describe as weird that you think is totally normal?
100%. I talk in weird voices all the time, especially to my husband and my dogs. I like making random weird voices. Kids really love that side of me when I work with them because I'm just being myself.
Can you talk about the significance of your Cree name?
Yeah, so my Cree name was given to me by an Elder quite a few years ago. They gave me the name Shining Rock because they said everywhere I go, I shine and bring light into people's lives. And then they chose “rock” because that's the purest thing on earth.
You just received a Blackfoot name also. Congratulations. Could you talk about that as well?
I was named after an Elder who's part of the Horn Society. He’s a pipe carrier and said he wanted me to have a powerful name that was connected to him and carried on a legacy. So Sacred Pipe Woman is the name I was given. It's amazing to be gifted these names. They have such deep stories behind them.
"It's amazing to be gifted these names. They have such deep stories behind them.”
How did it feel to be given these names?
With the first one, Shining Rock, I was surprised, really. I was excited. It had such a beautiful meaning. And with my Blackfoot name, I've been going to Sundance with my husband’s Blackfoot family for the last five years. It's really important for us to be a part of each other's cultures because that's what we want to pass on to the next generation—knowledge of our cultures and languages. When I was given the Blackfoot name recently at Sundance, I had my husband's family and my family standing with me. It was such an emotional moment because after they gave me my name, everyone started celebrating, crying, and smiling. I had all my supporters and I just felt complete. I felt like a piece of me was missing and there it was.
Have these names influenced your identity in any way?
They make me feel more powerful. More connected to my culture. Being able to say these names—it just creates this really good feeling. A feeling that gives me strength and I just want to pass that strength to everyone.
What does it mean to find yourself?
There was a point in my life where I felt lost. But I realized that in order to find what I was made of and who I was, I needed to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. Once I did that, I realized that I should never set limits for myself. I learned I was stronger than I thought I was, more independent, and a lot more fierce. I found myself by persevering through hard times and loving myself no matter the outcome.
What is the significance of the colours you chose for this collection?
"I realized that in order to find what I was made of and who I was, I needed to step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”
I chose these blues and golds because they remind me of the sunsets on the reserve. When I’m there and I go outside, the sky is always this beautiful ombre blue that turns gold. When I see those colours, I think, this is home.
Written by Carter Selinger