Willow Allen carries her Inuit identity 'proudly' despite the 'colonizer mindset' on social media

The model's focuses are now on family, and helping others embrace their Indigenous roots.

Willow Allen is an Indigenous model and influencer from Inuvik. (Instagram/@willow.allen)
Willow Allen is an Indigenous model and influencer from Inuvik. (Instagram/@willow.allen)

From explaining how beluga whale meat — or muktuk — is made, to how Inuvialuit parenting style prioritizes gentleness, Inuit model and content creator Willow Allen has been sharing snippets of her life since 2019.

Being from Inuvik, N.W.T., Allen grew a following educating followers on her life "in the Arctic." But she tells Yahoo Canada, she never expected the attention.

"When I started sharing, I didn't think of it much as being something so different from the rest of the world, just because I was sharing who I was and my life in the north," Allen said.

In one video shared to Instagram, Allen explained what traditional Inuit snow goggles are, captioning her post, "Did you know Inuit were the first to invent sunglasses?"

She said in the video the goggles are typically made out of wood, bone ivory or caribou antler and are "designed to prevent snow-blindness."

Fans thanked Allen for sharing, with one commenting: "I absolutely love how you represent your community and educate us about this amazing culture."

The 24 year-old said her goal is to celebrate her culture, and show others how to do it too.

"I think seeing so many people feel encouraged to embrace their Indigenous roots motivates me to continue sharing," she said.

However, her social media journey hasn't been all positive.

Defending her Indigenous identity

Amidst the encouraging and curious voices, some people have questioned Allen's identity and ethnicity, accusing her of not being Inuk, or "pretending to be Indigenous."

In November, Allen addressed the claims in a video highlighting photos from her childhood in N.W.T.

"I was raised in my Inuvialuit culture in our Indigenous community in the Arctic, that will always be part of my identity. I will carry that proudly for my family, my community and for all Indigenous people who have felt like their identity was taken away," she captioned the post.

Allen told Yahoo Canada this narrative is all-too-familiar.

"It can be frustrating to see people say that towards not even just me, but Indigenous people in general," she admitted."To put people down for wanting to connect with their culture shows a colonizer mindset."

She isn't alone in being accused of lying about her heritage recently. In October, an investigation by CBC News called into question iconic singer Buffy Sainte-Marie's Indigenous identity, which she has refuted. Similar accusations have also surfaced in recent years around high-profile figures like actor Sacheen Littlefeather and author Joseph Boyden, among others.

To anyone whose identity has been questioned however, Allen claimed what it means to be Indigenous isn’t what colonizers have said or perceived it to be, but is "about cultural life and family."

To put people down for wanting to connect with their culture shows a colonizer mindset.Willow Allen

She explained another reason she continues sharing is to debunk the stereotypes about Indigenous people, like those involving alcoholism or residential schools.

"That's the only thing you know or hear about because of colonization, but a lot of people don't know the culture — and how amazing of a lifestyle it is."

What's next for Willow Allen?

At eight months pregnant, Allen is taking a break from modelling to focus on motherhood and Inuit-style parenting. She said her goal is to raise her child in the north where they'll get to experience life in the Arctic, and develop a connection with the land.

"I want to have them experience things like going hunting with our family, go berry picking, going out to our cabin and to just incorporate the culture as much as I can into their identity," the soon-to-be mother said.

"One of the things that I really don't want is for my whole lineage to just die off with me."

Once she gives birth and feels ready, Allen said she'll go back to modeling, where bringing Indigenous representation has been one of the most rewarding things to her.

"Indigenous girls have reached out to me, saying that they've never considered modeling just because they haven't seen another Indigenous model before, but having seen me with this platform and doing this is making them (believe) that they can pursue it," she said.

Encouraging other Indigenous people, especially young girls, to pursue modeling has always been one of her goals. In the meantime, she plans to continue educating people about Inuit culture on social media.

"It helps me learn a lot about my culture and has me ask… elders about stories of what life was like when they were kids," Allen said. "You can never learn too much, or have too much knowledge, about the culture."

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