Kamloops student Jada Raphael—who grew up in Spences Bridge and Ashcroft, and is a member of the Cook’s Ferry Band—will soon be flying to Melbourne, Australia to take part in the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival as an Indigenous model.
Raphael—who turns 17 just before the festival in early March—has been modelling since she was 14, mostly in small shows where she wore clothing designed by her aunt, Nadine Spence. In 2015 she had an opportunity to model clothes alongside Ashley Callingbull from Alberta’s Enoch Cree Nation, who in August 2015 became the first Canadian woman, and first Indigenous woman, to be crowned Miss Universe.
The opportunity came about because Raphael’s mother, Cheryl Billy, contacted Callingbull prior to her appearance at TRU in Kamloops in October 2015. “It was a big show,” says Raphael. “I got to meet a lot of Indigenous people.”
Raphael was tagged in a Facebook post about the Melbourne fashion festival, and she applied online and sent in an application. “More than 1,000 people applied, and I was shocked and very emotional when I found out I’d been accepted.” All the models are aged between 17 and 25, and the event is open for both beginners and professionals.
Raphael says there is a week of intensive training for all the models before the actual show. “The training is worth about $3,000, and will help me in the future. I don’t have stage fright, and I’m not scared walking down the runway, so I think I’ll be fine. I’m just scared of tripping.” During the training, models cannot wear make-up or use hair products, and cannot show any body piercings. “They want to get to know us as natural people.”
Billy says that the training is an elite program that will benefit her daughter and help in her runway future. Raphael confirms that modelling is a career she would like to pursue, but adds that the Melbourne festival will help her decide if that’s what she wants to do.
She currently attends Valleyview High School in Kamloops, in order to take advantage of the varied sports opportunities available there.
“I’m really into sports, and am more of an athletic model,” says Raphael, noting that she is involved in kickboxing, hockey, and rugby. “I won’t stop doing these.”
A request for sponsorships or donations to help defray the costs has already produced a sponsor for the flight to Melbourne and a donation to help with spending money, and Billy says they are still looking for sponsors.
“Modelling agencies will be looking at her for their shows, and we’re looking for funding for these opportunities.” She adds, however, that her daughter is remaining humble, and is willing to come back and speak to other youth about sports and how she got to where she is.
“My family has been very supportive,” says Raphael. “I wouldn’t be here without my mom, who taught me to stay humble and stay classy. And my grandmother, Shirley Raphael [who passed in January 2017], taught me so much. I wouldn’t be here without her, either. I got quite emotional when I heard about the festival, and wished Grandma was here.”
Raphael—who will be representing the Nlakapamux and Secwepemc Nations, as well as the Cook’s Ferry Band, at the Melbourne festival—is keenly aware of her roots. “I’m proud of who I am.” Billy notes that her daughter is a leader of her own already, something that is very empowering for the little ones.
“She was raised very intensely in regard to Nlakapamux rules and laws,” says Billy. “She knows how to hunt and fish, and has done some drumming.”
“I tried for my first buck this year,” says Raphael, adding that it was too far away for her to be assured of a clean shot that would kill and not wound it. “I was taught to only hunt for food, and to honour the land and be respectful. I leave tobacco and sage to thank the fish for sustenance.”
Looking ahead to March, Raphael says “I’m very excited; and the closer I get to it the more excited I get. There will be Indigenous people there from all over the world, representing different countries. I’m really looking forward to it, and to building my portfolio.”
Says Billy, “It’s amazing how her life has turned from just being Jada to being a global Indigenous model.”
Anyone who would like to sponsor Raphael, or make a donation, can contact Cheryl Billy at (250) 571-9314, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.