By Tiffany Hsieh
Lisa Charleyboy (BA ’10, York University) always felt like an outsider to her Tsilhqot’in community and reserve in Alexis Creek First Nation, B.C. What helped ground her while growing up in Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, was her insatiable interest in fashion and magazines. At 10, she devoured Vogue magazine cover to cover. By Grade 10, she decided she would move to Toronto upon graduation to study fashion communication. But it was at York University that Charleyboy discovered her indigenous roots and her true passion, which paved the way for embracing her native culture through writing on fashion and all things lifestyle.
“At York, I was encouraged to explore my heritage through writing and assignments, to explore history and be more critical about aboriginal issues in Canada,” she says. “I was very engaged as a student and with the student paper. I really enjoyed my time at York. It was a fantastic experience.”
Charleyboy is now a writer, fashion blogger, social entrepreneur and actress. She graduated from York’s Professional Writing program after a stint in fashion communication studies at another university didn’t prove to be what she desired. While a student at York, Charleyboy wrote fashion columns for Indian Country Today, was a fashion editor at York’s Excalibur, an intern at Lush magazine and a weekly contributor at MSN.ca on beauty, fashion and lifestyle. She also started her popular blog Urban Native Girl as a way to engage in writing and social media, and connect with native peoples from across North America.
When Charleyboy was approached by York to work as an aboriginal recruitment officer upon graduation, “It felt way off path,” she recalls. “I wanted to go into fashion magazines.” However, after the University approached her a few times, she decided it was a good opportunity for her to engage aboriginal youth about pursuing postsecondary education at York and following their dreams.
“There’s a native belief that if you are being asked to do something three times, you have to really give it some careful thought and consideration,” she says. “I took the job. I got to travel and meet people. I was involved with the native community across Canada. The job changed my focus to indigenous issues.”
During her two years in the role, Charleyboy helped York build relationships with First Nations communities all across the country. Among her many accomplishments, she helped to bring renowned author and York alumnus Joseph Boyden to campus for a speakers’ series. Not only has Boyden been a mentor to Charleyboy ever since, but he’s contributed to an anthology about indigenous youth that she co-edited. The book, titled Dreaming in Indian, Contemporary Native American Voices, was published last fall by Annick Press.
“The job at York shifted my life and opened my eyes,” she says. “Had it not been for this experience, my magazine would be more fluffy.”
Urban Native Magazine, an online publication Charleyboy launched in 2013, bears a mission to be “the go-to destination for current articles on indigenous fashion, art, culture, entertainment, lifestyle, news and business.” Despite the stark reality of print media’s continuing decline, her magazine’s first quarterly print issue is scheduled for launch this winter.
“I want my magazine to inspire indigenous youth. I want to distribute the magazine in northern communities, where there is limited access to smartphones and computers and not a lot of magazines in this realm,” Charleyboy says. “One of the things I hope to explore is fashion through [photo] shoots for my magazine and to showcase aboriginal fashion designers.”
Aside from being one of Canada’s most popular bloggers, Charleyboy was selected as a 2013-14 DiverseCity Fellow, one of North America’s leading urban fellows programs for rising city builders. As part of the fellowship, she has worked on an aboriginal youth media training initiative in Toronto. In her free time, Charleyboy has also been working on a book about urban native millennials, writing a “native chick lit” novel about a young woman in a big city looking for love, and filming a 13-part television documentary series called Urban Native Girl, which follows her as she takes her blog and turns it into a native lifestyle magazine featuring aboriginal fashion. The documentary is scheduled to air on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in fall 2015.
“Fashion is always with me,” says Charleyboy, who recently moved to Vancouver to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. “Even though I never thought I’d be a writer, I have transformed my love for fashion through my love for my culture and writing. It’s been an incredible journey.”
This article appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of York U, the magazine of York University. Reprinted with permission.