TV & Movies

Sarain Fox on #IndigenousPride & Her Latest Work with Indigenous Artists

"Young people are learning and creating new ways forward for all of us," says Sarain Fox, brand ambassador for the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School

Sarain Fox sits on the shore.

Sarain Fox

While visiting Manitoulin Island last week, Sarain Fox shared an Instagram post that really resonated with her followers. “I’ve been meeting so many incredible people working to rematriate and reclaim our culture, sometimes I have to stop and take a moment reflect,” the activist and host of Viceland’s Rise wrote. “It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity, but I would rather get swept away in the positivity. Our people are strong, resilient and capable. The youth are leading the revolution and I’m proud to be Indigenous every single day.”

Fox ended the post with the #IndigenousPride hashtag, which has been recently trending on social media.

As part of her ongoing work to connect Indigenous communities to their roots, Fox has become the brand ambassador for the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School, created by the popular Winnipeg shoe brand Manitobah Mukluks. Last year, through a TreadRight Heritage Initiative grant, and in partnership with The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, members of the school taught youth how to make their own beaded mukluks and moccasins. On the heels of an extremely successful first year, the school has recently obtained more funding through the TreadRight Foundation to continue its work for another year.

Fox told FLARE that she loves working with the school and wears moccasins and beadwork as often as possible. We caught up with her to find out more about her work as an activist, the importance of every stitch of the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot Project and why #IndigenousPride gives her hope.

Sarain Fox walks along a lake.

Growing up, it can take time to find your place in the world. As an Anishinaabe woman, how did you learn to connect with your community and your heritage?

I grew up connected to my community. My mother was dedicated to raising us in our traditional ways. For that reason, I have always been proud of my culture and who I am. It wasn’t difficult for me to find meaningful connections within my community, but rather to find ways to be a proud Anishinaabe woman within mainstream culture. I’ve managed that through education, advocacy and being shamelessly myself. I bring my culture into all situations including fashion; I wear moccasins and beadwork as often as possible

In your opinion, what new barriers exist for Indigenous youth today? Are they different from when you were growing up?

I see many of the same narratives about Indigenous people today as I did when I grew up, but now they’re more visible. In today’s world of social media, young people are asked to navigate complex issues and ideologies. They often experience bullying and negativity to boot. Our Indigenous youth face the largest risk of suicide so it’s vital that we protect them from racism, systematic abuse and help to foster a sense of confidence about their identities. Skill-building and community-based activities are as essential as the fight for an authentic voice at the table.

Let’s talk about the #IndigenousPride hashtag. What does it mean to you?

Sharing our Indigenous pride is not a new sentiment but social media has certainly changed the game. More than ever, our communities are connecting online to share content, art, pride and to raise our voices. Our young people are rising up. They are reclaiming what was lost and protecting what they still have. They are engaging with and supporting each other. We’ve seen amazing examples of that within the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot Project; beaders who were once hard to find are sharing their work on social media and building businesses out of it. We’ve found so many talented artists that way!

From your perspective, how is #IndigenousPride addressing some of the challenges faced by Indigenous youth today?

Knowledge is power. The more we’re able to educate Canadians about our culture and our plight, the more opportunities we create for a better future. Senator Murray Sinclair talks all the time about how we must first know the truth before you can have reconciliation. This online movement is allowing the youth to connect and to tell their truths. That is potent and powerful.

Sarain Fox sits outside on a blanket and smiles.

How has social media changed Indigenous activism?

Social media has been revolutionary for Indigenous activism. It’s allowed us to tell our own stories from our own perspectives. Last year at Standing Rock, we saw live feeds that broadcasted very real injustices to the world. As a result, we saw the largest uprising of Indigenous people in over a hundred years. In arts and culture, we see everyday examples of community building through shared content and imagery.

Can you talk a bit more about your work with the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School?

The Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School, in partnership with the TreadRight Foundation, is helping Indigenous youth in Toronto reclaim who they are and build skills simultaneously. The transfer of Indigenous knowledge and craft from generation to generation is vital in ensuring that this art continues long into the future. When our young people are able to participate in their culture and foster new talents, we allow them to walk forward in a new way, proudly. This is the reconciliation in action; empowerment from the ground up, literally one stitch at a time.

Mohawk artist Christina Bomberry (right) shows a student more about Indigenous beading

Mohawk artist Christina Bomberry (right) teaches a student more about Indigenous beading

A student shows her beadwork at Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School

A closer look at the beading work at Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School

You’re the host of docs-series Rise on Viceland, where you travel to Indigenous communities and meet with people protecting their homelands. What do you hope the show will achieve?

As an Indigenous woman, I don’t feel that I have a choice but to share my truth. I must tell the stories of my people. I feel responsible for amplifying the voices of frontline communities (and all Indigenous communities) for seven generations to come. I see my work with RISE and my current show, Future History, as part of that responsibility. I hope that by sharing these important stories—from an Indigenous perspective—we allow Canadians and the world to relearn who Indigenous people are outside of a colonial perspective. Perhaps it will create meaningful platforms for dialogue and a better collective future for all of us.

We recently celebrated National Aboriginal Day. What does that day mean to you?

I am proud to be Anishinaabe everyday! But, I think National Aboriginal Day is an important platform for sharing who we are with the rest of the country. It’s a day to educate, celebrate and create meaningful dialogue. My goal is to make it feel like that for my people 365 days a year.

In a recent Terroir Talk, you said that the next generation gives you hope. Can you expand on that for us? 

Everything I do in my life is for the youth. I was raised to consider seven generations back in order to make decisions for seven generations forward. I used to live in a place of fear all the time. I was afraid that I would lose the elders before I got to learn all of the teachings, stories and ceremonies. I was afraid that one day as Indigenous people we would lose it all and I wouldn’t be able to pass it along to my children. The vibrancy and resilience of our young people has taken away that fear. They are standing up to protect what is sacred. I see it across ‘Indian country’—the people are waking up. Young people are learning and creating new ways forward for all of us.

What Indigenous Activists Want You to Know About the MMIWG Inquiry
Check Out Ikea Canada’s New Collaboration With Indigenous Artisans
9 Indigenous Activists Talk About Canada 150
What Standing With Standing Rock Really Means