Fashion model and role model, Sylvan Lake’s Tiana Oostindie is reminding Indigenous youth that they are beautiful, strong and capable.
Oostindie, 26, graduated from HJ Cody School in 2014 and moved to Vancouver in 2015 to help look after her ailing grandparents. Her uncle later introduced her to Joleen Mitton, the founder of Indigenous Fashion Week in Vancouver, and Oostindie’s career as a model began.
Oostindie took part in her very first fashion show in 2018, a youth gala at Tsleil Waututh in North Vancouver.
“That was really fun,” Oostindie said of her first show. “I’ve always been interested in modelling. My friends and I used to have our own fashion shows together. But I was really nervous; that was my first time getting my hair and make up done. Immediately, I was like, I love this.”
About a year-and-a-half ago, Mitton co-founded Supernaturals Modelling, a boutique Indigenous modelling agency in Vancouver.
“Since then, we’ve just blown up,” Oostindie said of working for Supernaturals.
From Sept. 9 to 14, Oostindie and the Supernaturals models attended New York Fashion Week (NYFW), and this was an especially exciting trip because Indigenous models and designers were being showcased on a new level for the first time.
“That was amazing,” Oostindie said of NYFW. “I’m still in shock. It definitely has been a dream of mine and something I never really pictured happening. It was amazing and super inspiring.”
Oostindie said that while this was her first time attending NYFW, it was also the first time for Supernaturals and for the Indigenous community as a whole.
“This means so much,” Oostindie said. “It brings a lot more Indigenous representation to the world and it proves to the world that we are not just our stereotype. We’re part of a beautiful culture.”
Although she had modelled with other agencies before, Oostindie said modelling for Supernaturals has helped her grow as a person and she’s been able to take part in different cultural practices with the other models.
“We focus on each model and how we have different stories and backgrounds,” she explained. “We’re all unique and that’s what makes each of us beautiful. We take time to have retreats throughout the year, to remember what we’re doing this for. It’s been building a lot of confidence that I never had. I used to be shy and never proud of being Indigenous, but through Indigenous modelling, we can show Indigenous youth that they can be proud.”
Oostindie said that while she was growing up, there weren’t a lot of role models around that looked like her.
“I had people tell me that I look different,” she recalled. “In school, I could hear people making fun of Natives. It wasn’t something to be proud of.”
Indigenous fashion has meaning behind each piece and that’s something Oostindie carries with her when she walks on stage.
“One of the most meaningful parts of being an Indigenous model is talking with the designers right before we go on stage and they tell us what the clothing means,” she explained. “It gives us so much more confidence and meaning and it’s reminding me that my ancestors are backing me up, knowing the story of what I’m wearing. And I feel like the crowd can sense that as well.”
Indigenous Fashion Week is coming up in Vancouver from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 and the show highlights Indigenous fashion designers, models, hair and make up crews, vendors and performers. For Oostindie, this will be her second time modelling in this show.
“It’s always super amazing, and it’s always a sold-out show,” she said.
Going forward, Oostindie said she’d like to model with more brands.
“I feel like a lot more brands are wanting more representation,” she said. “And hopefully with Supernaturals, we can bring more healthy representation.”
In addition to modelling, Oostindie also makes her own beadwork, which she showcases on her Instagram page, and she works for an Indigenous hotel and art gallery in Vancouver, as well.
Canada recently honoured its second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and Oostindie said it can be tiring to always be the one teaching others.
“I think it’s exhausting, having to explain what is very basic to me,” she said. “In one aspect, I feel kind of sad that this is only the second Truth and Reconciliation Day and it shows we still have a long way to go. But on the other hand, it’s really inspiring. It was great to see so many orange shirts out there on the 30th.”
Oostindie makes her own TikTok videos and she said she has received negative comments and hatred from others, but in her job at the hotel, she has also had tourists ask her about Orange Shirt Day and what it means.
“I was excited to explain it,” she said. “But I felt like crying while I was explaining it. I didn’t know I’d get so emotional about it. I hope with Truth and Reconciliation Day that we can find some healing with it.”