Ice Hockey and Modelling with Linsay Willier
As part of Connected North’s Future Pathways program, TakingITGlobal is interviewing Indigenous role models about their work, their art, their challenges, and their inspirations. We call them Future Pathways Fireside Chats.
Linsay Willier has a degree in child and youth care and runs workshops on self-esteem and building confidence in different communities across Turtle Island. She is from the Sucker Creek First Nation in Northern Alberta. Linsay notably found opportunities as a contestant on the television show Canada’s Next Top Model.
“I secretly always wanted to model. Growing up, it was my secret heart of hearts.” Coming from a small reserve, however, Linsay struggled with confidence. “I was very shy, and had low self-esteem.”
Linsay recalls her first runway show: “I had never worn stilettos [high heel shoes] before because I’m five foot ten and I grew up on the Res with dirt roads; there was no place to wear stilettos!”
But Linsay found that her childhood had provided her with an internal confidence she didn’t even know she’d had. “It turns out that all of my years playing hockey, ice hockey, growing up was the one thing that really helped me build confidence and really helped me get out of that dark shell and made me a better model. I surprised myself by like, ‘Okay, you know, maybe I’m more capable than I’m letting myself believe.’”
This connection between hockey and modelling is just one successful example of Linsay’s belief that young people should follow their passions. “You never know where it will lead you! It could introduce you to one of your best friends, or to a different job that you didn’t know you would love so much. And if you’re following that passion, you’re heading on the right path. The universe will reward you for following your heart.”
As a child, Linsay looked to her parents as positive role models, because as she says, “There weren’t a lot of First Nations women [to emulate], especially out in the mainstream.” Linsay’s parents were very loving to her and her siblings, providing them with a stable upbringing, despite their own challenges. “My dad was in residential school, and my mom was born with only one arm….I’m like, if they can go through those things and still have a smile on their face and still be good people at their core, then I should be able to do that and to magnify it.”
Linsay recognises that many young people, especially those whose parents experienced the residential school system, may not have such a solid foundation. “It’s the most important thing for every youth. That’s why I try to tell them you can start building your own foundation. If their home life is rocky, then it’s like, okay, let’s start with the internal foundation, the internal work that is going to make you feel good about yourself.”
Linsay saw this dedication to self-improvement in her own father. “My dad has been sober for 33 years. When I was born he decided he couldn’t live that life [anymore]. Alcohol was consuming him. So he had to make the choice for himself that he needed to be sober. And I thank him so much for making that choice, because it really changed our upbringing and made it great.”
Linsay’s pride in her roots held her up during challenging moments, like being on national television: “I decided to audition for a show called Canada’s Next Top Model. I ended up being chosen to be on the show. And while I was on there they would ask me, ‘Where are you from?’”
When Linsay replied that she was from Sucker Creek First Nation, the response on the show was, “What? What do you mean? You know you can say you’re from Edmonton; that’s where you live.” But Linsay wouldn’t have that. “I was like, ‘No, the questions is where am I from, not where do I live.’ I just really embraced my roots and my culture on the show, which seemed very normal to me because I’m proud of where I come from. I’m proud of my ethnicity.”
Building up the confidence to stand up for herself as an Indigenous woman took time for Linsay. She had been “terrified” to moved away from her reserve to pursue post-secondary education. And she hadn’t thought she was even capable. “Growing up, I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to university. I had this misbelief that I wasn’t intelligent enough, which was completely false and just this really negative self-talk that I had as a child and I feel like a lot of young people do have.
“I realized that was such an unfortunate way for me to be thinking about myself.” Linsay began building herself up through positive self-talk. “I recognised at a young age how easy it is to get caught up and consumed in negative self-talk.” She wishes she could tell her younger self “to believe in myself from the start. To believe that I’m smart, believe that I’m worthy, believe that I deserve to be successful….I missed out on a lot of years of believing in myself.”
By helping herself, Linsay became inspired to help other young people recognize their own potential. She earned a Special Needs educational assistant certificate, then a diploma, and then a full four-year degree in child and youth care. She now creates workshops to support youth self-esteem.
She encourages young Indigenous people to explore their potential, and explore the world, whether through schooling, travel, or within their own community. “I think traveling is one of the most amazing things you can do and one of the most amazing gifts you can give yourself, because you learn so much about the world and you grow so much empathy towards other people and how they live. And you learn so many life skills that it’s really amazing to see the rest of the world out there. But then, whenever you feel like you need to be grounded and reconnect, you can go back home to your community and do that. Or you can stay. There’s no shame in staying in your community as well.”
But no matter what paths you take, Linsay wants you to always remember where you come from, because it will help you stand tall and be brave. “If you think of leaving, it is not forever. Your community will always be there. You can always go back.”
The Connected North Future Pathways program is brought to you by TakingITGlobal with support from the RBC Foundation. Special thanks to
Jessica Dee Humphreys for authoring this blog post.