These days, you can’t scroll through the ol’ Instagram without spotting a detailed outfit post or a link to a friend of a friend’s budding style blog. But when Vancouver-based writer Lisa Charleyboy launched her online fashion and lifestyle journal, Urban Native Girl, in 2007, she was unsure if the content would resonate with readers.
“I just wondered if there were other people like me, who love fashion and pop culture but come from an indigenous background,” she recalls to the Straight by phone, “and whether there was space for this type of voice, because I hadn’t seen it before.”
Charleyboy’s concerns, however, were quickly assuaged as she gained a steady stream of followers over the next decade. Tired of having to choose between her interests in fashion and First Nations matters—her father is Tsilhqot’in and hails from B.C.’s Tsi Del Del community—the professional-writing grad produced an amalgamation of posts during her time at Toronto’s York University that struck a chord with sartorial-minded youth.
From First Nations artists and designers to aboriginal rights, politics, and issues of cultural appropriation, Charleyboy has covered a range of topics that illuminate the many facets of indigenous life in the 21st century. She’s spotlighted various First Nations figures, including Canadian Screen Award–nominated actor Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs and Regina-based entrepreneur, dancer, and musician Jacob Pratt, acknowledging the vibrant roles they play in Canada’s arts, style, and culture scenes.
“I really wanted to showcase the diversity of the native millennial experience within urban settings,” explains Charleyboy. “While some people are very much embedded in culture and ceremony, other people may find more connection with their culture by attending a Tribe Called Red concert. One is not better than another—there’s just a wide spectrum. And I feel like there were a lot of stereotypes about indigenous people and that it was impossible to have a connection with your cultural heritage by being in a city.”
It’s this diversity that’s at the heart of the anthologies Charleyboy has coedited, Dreaming in Indian and Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City, the second of which she’ll be reading from during her talk titled City Dwellers: First Nations and the Urban Experience at the Vancouver Writers Fest. There, she’ll also speak on the origins of urban tribes and the success and challenges she’s encountered as a young aboriginal woman navigating the city.
Charleyboy has grown accustomed to such tasks, having conducted presentations at postsecondary institutions and for young indigenous people around the country. The writer, host, and occasional actor is also taking part in This Really Happened: Coming of Age, a live storytelling event that will see five authors sharing the trials and tribulations of adolescence.
All this as the self-described social entrepreneur prepares Urban Native Girl for its official print-magazine launch—a journey she’s chronicled in a television series of the same name on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. She continues work on her third anthology and upcoming debut book and maintains her blog with special attention allotted to First Nations fashion designers. (Her favourite names currently include Vancouver’s Sho Sho Esquiro and L.A.’s Bethany Yellowtail.)
Despite her packed schedule, however, the opportunity to speak with an audience—especially a young one—is not something Charleyboy will soon turn down. “There’s always one person…who comes up and says, ‘Hey, this really resonated with me and this really made me feel differently about myself as an indigenous person, and I really hope to explore this further. And I feel excited and I feel proud,’ ” she says. “And to me, that’s worth it—100 percent.”
Lisa Charleyboy will appear in two events at this year’s Vancouver Writers Fest: a solo talk at the Waterfront Theatre on October 18 (now sold-out) and a five-author panel discussion at the Revue Stage on October 19. See the Writers Fest website for details.