Alicia Hanton, 24, is a fashion model and line cook based out of the West Coast of so-called Canada.
She is a member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and recently visited the northern community for the first time earlier this year. Alicia sat down for her virtual interview and prepared to share her experiences as an Indigenous woman navigating the Fashion Industry, and hopes to empower those who are involved with the foster care system to keep going because it gets better.
Alicia begins her story by mentioning, “I care about Indigenous fashion because it gives our people an outlet to create art based on their culture. And they deserve to be able to have businesses and provide for their families, which is really important to me because I grew up in poverty and no family should have to go through that pain. So the most beautiful and healing way for me to express that is through modelling and supporting Indigenous brands.”
Alicia has been cooking since she was 17 years old and currently works at a family-owned café in Chilliwack. She travels to the lower mainland on her days off for modelling gigs. Alicia feels the pull to move to Vancouver to focus on building her portfolio and hopes to do so in the future because that is where she feels her community is.
While it is impressive that Alicia has been featured online for VOGUE and has walked the runway for Vancouver Fashion Week — she stands tall at 6’2 with long dark hair and brown eyes — but it’s her spirit that makes her a beautiful person.
Alicia recalls always being told growing up that “she should be a model,” but it wasn’t something she seriously considered until she modelled for a jewellery company with her older sister Sheila. At the beginning of her modelling career, she was not represented by an agency and often worked independently.
A family member took her to an agency when she was 14, and it was not a pleasant experience. The agent criticized her crooked teeth, and Alicia was discouraged knowing how difficult it can be to afford dental care or access safe healthcare. Alicia eventually was able to get braces in her late teens and crossed paths with her now-mentor, Joleen.
“It happened the way it did, and I am proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone and wanting to explore the fashion industry with other Indigenous women.”
Alicia spoke passionately about the modelling agency SuperNaturals Modelling, co-founded by Patrick Shannon and Joleen Mitton in May 2021, and the hard work put into challenging western norms and normalizing Indigenous representation in TV and media. In addition, they strive to create a community of healing and support in accessing wellness resources.
“It is no secret that Indigenous children are overrepresented in the foster care system. Many of us age out and have no sense of direction because decisions were always being made for us,” Alicia states as she discusses some of her experiences as a teenager growing up in East Vancouver and the Squamish area.
Thankfully, she is able to give back to the community and be a healthy role model for young girls through a group program called “Mentor Me” and “Urban Butterflies” run by the Pacific Association of First Nation Women. Alicia meets with the group monthly to share lived experiences and also contributes by providing lunch catering.
She states, “I want people to know how easy it is to support Indigenous artists and that our youth deserve a happy life full of possibilities,” which is definitely true, and the support can help us break barriers in the mainstream.
Alicia has. For instance, you can find the clothing brand SECTION 35 at Peter Pond Mall’s street store, and it is acceptable for even those non-Indigenous to wear. Alicia recalls a time when she was first introduced to the brand SECTION 35 and modelled their earlier collections for a documentary project called “Wear The Resistance” that emphasized traditional pieces (regalia, fur, beads, etc) that were taken away with tools of colonization. In addition, “it was a lot of like leather jackets kind of streetwear and I love the clothes, but then it also came with like the statement, they weren’t just clothes because of the messaging. It was cool working with them, and I’d love to like to work with them more.” Fashion is an expression of our identities and wearing a statement brand such as SECTION 35 reminds others that it has been confirmed by the Government of Canada that there are indeed existing Treaty Rights for our Indigenous people who identify as First Nation, Métis, or Inuit.
Alicia understands the complexities of what it is like to exist as an Indigenous woman in an urban setting but remains proud of her culture, she loves her family deeply and tends to be the emotional one (she blames it on her astrological Pisces sign). She was approached by a Social Worker to take a trip to Fort Chipewyan before her Brother was to age out of care in hopes they can find some connections but to also support her sibling during the process. Alicia admits she was not sure about the offer due to many unknowns of returning to a home community but knew she could not miss out on this chance to see where her Grandfather, Theodore Starr, was from. Some of the winter activities she enjoyed were dog sledding, ice fishing, and making Bannock on a stick over the fire. Alicia is still processing much of her experiences during her visit and hopes to come back again in the warmer months. Alicia has much gratitude for those who welcomed her family because it was an overwhelming time, she is also pleased to see how alive the culture is in the Wood Buffalo region. “He was actually a mill worker! That’s what I found out because everyone was like.. Is he alive? Where did he go? Where is he now? Is he working at the mill?”. She was surprised by how many people knew of him and learned about his introduction to the Trades, which explains what potentially brought him to the west coast after leaving the rural community.
Alicia’s story is similar to many others who have been involved in displacement due to the child welfare system, but it is beautiful to think about the efforts made to find answers to questions she kept to herself over the years.
When asked for any last words of the interview, she mentions, “I think about the kids who are still sitting in foster homes. Like, with all these questions, like, where’s my family? Why did they take me away? Are they coming back for me? Where am I? Why am I going to a new school, like all these things that come up when you get taken out of your home as a child, and I just want, like kids that are sitting in foster care right now, to see that. Like, yes, you have been taken away from your family and you are in a strange place. But they can’t take who you are away from you. You’re still part of your family. You can still find your way back in they’ll still accept you back even though you’ve been removed. They always want you back.”
You can follow more of Alicia’s adventures on Instagram @alicia_0fficial.