The indigenous fashion model, who went from a small indigenous tribe in Saskatchewan to a bright light in Los Angeles, says her childhood promises to her parents have put her in a tough industry.
River Thomas grew up in the Soto First Nation, about two hours northwest of Saskatoon. From his early childhood, he has witnessed the effects of unhealthy coping mechanisms in his community. He wanted to be a positive role model, so he made a promise.
“I made a promise to my mother when I was little that I would never drink or do drugs,” Thomas said during a holiday visit to his home. “And to this day, I have kept that promise.”
He said his parents trusted him more and he was able to be more independent after the commitment.
“I made that promise, and growing up, they always allowed me to follow that moral compass, and they were never hard on me.
Thomas started modeling at an early age.
“I was at the Frontier Mall in North Battleford. My sisters and I were asked to model for a fashion show at the mall,” Thomas told CTV News.
He was doing the show and didn’t think much of it until he was 20.
“A woman named Tishna Buffalo contacted me and asked me to model for a fashion show in Regina. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Thomas never thought of himself as a model, even though he was offered a contract by a modeling agency. He still wanted to get an education after finishing high school.
Instead, he spent six years with the Reserve’s 38th Combat Engineer Regiment. Later, he was spotted at a volleyball tournament and recruited to Olds College.
“Just last year I graduated with a Diploma in Ground Land Management,” Thomas said. “I have this on and I can start my career whenever I want. I can rely on this. Now I can pursue this modeling job.”
Since moving to Los Angeles, Thomas has traveled the world, been featured in Vogue, starred in commercials, and met amazing people.
However, despite his stereotypes, he bears the responsibility of being the role model he always wanted as a child.
“When I walk in, there are already 10 stereotypes about me and my people based on ignorance,” says Thomas. “I choose to live my life to break all these stereotypes. That’s why I keep my hair long because I’m sober.”
The young model recently learned an important life lesson.
“One of the most important lessons we are taught is that everything you do affects seven generations ahead, so we are always looking to the future.” he said.
“I have no children yet, but I have many nieces and nephews,” he said. “Growing up in Saskatchewan, I never showed anyone that it was possible, so I just show them that it is possible.”
Thomas says that’s not the only reason.
“Choose to stay sober while you’re young. It really helps. It’s not everything, it doesn’t solve the puzzle, but it really helps.”
Thomas says he enjoys the opportunity every time he comes to California, but never forgets where he came from.
“Someone asked me recently, where is your favorite place in the world? I said I went home,” said Thomas. “I have traveled all over the world, and nothing beats home. Here are the people, the family, the reserves where I grew up and where my ancestors grew up. I love being there.”