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How This Indigenous Activist Is Decolonizing The Wellness Industry

Introducing Every Day Indigenous, our series centering and celebrating Indigenous people. Through strength and resistance, comes joy. It’s time to share that.
While Shayla Oulette Stonechild moved to Vancouver eight years ago to pursue acting, the roles she was auditioning for weren’t doing much in the way of positive and healthy representation for Indigenous women. Which was an issue, because it was the reason she made the move in the first place. Growing up, Oulette Stonechild didn’t see anyone who looked like her on screen; instead she turned to those in her community — like her mother and grandmothers — for support and representation. It’s an experience she says isn’t particularly unique to young Indigenous people, and one she has set out to change.
Oulette Stonechild realized she could take the tools she’d honed as an actress and apply them in the wellness industry, a space that has historically been incredibly white. “I grew up really shy because of the lack of Indigenous representation around me,” says Oulette Stonechild, who is from Muscowpetung First Nation, Treaty 4, Saskatchewan, but was born in Medicine Hat, AB. “Growing up in a predominantly white community, I always felt like I was the only Indigenous person in a classroom, so I cut off my throat chakra. I didn't speak my truth.
"Acting really allowed me to find my voice and allowed me to express the emotions and trauma I’d been feeling throughout my childhood rather than suppress it. It allowed me to transmute that trauma into a new way; and wellness was the container that pulled it all in together and made it make more sense.” Now, she’s helping others find their voice, as a trauma-informed yoga instructor, via her podcast Matriarch Movement, which aims to shift the narratives around Indigenous women, and as a TV host on APTN.
For our Power Diary series — interviews with women who inspire and empower us every day — we asked what (and who) makes Oulette Stonechild feel powerful.

When do you feel most powerful?

I feel most powerful when I'm in alignment with my truth regardless of other people's judgments or expectations. I feel most powerful when I know I'm supported by not only my community, but my own lineage, my ancestors, and my family. And I feel most powerful when I know that I have a community backing me up; even though I may be the one voicing it, there’s a lot more people behind me. 

What does power mean to you?

Power for me is living in integrity and in truth. Sometimes that truth can be hard to uncover or hard to discuss, but I think that's the point of healing and transmuting what that looks like within yourself. Power for me is living in alignment with your integrity and truth regardless.

What do you do when you feel powerless?

I turn off my phone and go and connect to nature, offer tobacco, connect with one of my healers over the phone, and do some meditation. I do ceremony, I smudge; I really try to connect to my inner world, because usually when I'm feeling powerless, it’s because I'm drained from all the external stuff.

What's your power anthem?

I usually listen to A Tribe Called Red. There’s also this one song I love, “The Unforgotten'' by iskwē and Tanya Tagaq. It’s a song about reclamation and is powerful to listen to anytime I’m feeling low or need an energy boost. It reminds me of why I’m here and that we aren’t forgotten. 

Who is your power icon?

I would have to say Nahanni Fontaine, who’s the [NDP] MLA for St. Johns. Her story is unbelievable, and she's also taking up space in governance. Working for the Canadian government as an Indigenous woman, I have complete respect for her, because I feel like that would be challenging. But her story of reclamation of who she is as an Indigenous woman, that's how she gets through it. 
My other power icon would be Tanya Talaga, who’s a trailblazer in Canadian journalism. She never saw herself represented in the journalism industry and never had anyone to look up to, so she's been at the forefront and I really respect her.

What, if anything, do you wear when you want to feel powerful?

When I want to feel powerful, I wear white. For a long time I thought it was just because I liked the way it looked, but it’s a very spiritual and sacred colour. I’ll usually wear an all-white outfit, and then have on a turquoise squash necklace. Turquoise is really powerful...and a brimmed hat!

Is there anything that you've read lately or you return to that helps make you feel powerful?

Sacred Instructions. It’s always the book that I pick up when I need motivation or when I want to feel powerful. It’s by Indigenous author, attorney, and activist Sherri Mitchell, and she speaks about how capitalism and colonization has affected each one of our spirits. And she provides really good insight into what is needed for humanity at this time and how we have to heal and come back together. 

Who in your community or network makes you feel powerful?

There’s a lot! But recently, I’d have to say my business partner Denita Gladeau. We have very similar backgrounds, we're both water signs [Oulette Stonechild is a Pisces with a Gemini moon], we’re both Plains Cree, both of our dads passed away, both of our moms are Christian, and we're both working for the Matriarch Movement now. She’s been with me since day one out here, and so she's seen me at my lowest. You know those people who feel like soulmates but are your friends? She’s definitely one.  

What makes your community powerful?

The ability to keep getting up in the face of resistance. Literally, they wanted to erase us; so the fact that we're still here, just to wake up and to be breathing as an Indigenous person is a political statement in itself, because at one point we were supposed to be extinct. The fact that we're still here is powerful enough.

There is be power in expressing joy in the face of systemic oppression. What makes you feel joyful?

A lot of the simple things bring me joy. I live four blocks away from the beach in Kitsilano, so I go down to the ocean often, and that brings me a lot of joy. I can find peace and serenity just being in nature. The earth provides us with everything that we need and everything else is just a bonus. 
Seeing other people's joy — especially when they’re Indigenous — also makes me happy.
The Refinery29 Canada team acknowledges that we are settlers on the land now known as Canada. We stand in solidarity and support of Indigenous people and we recognize that all of us have an ongoing part to play in reconciliation. We thank the Indigenous community for allowing us to live and work on their land.

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