Ashley Callingbull, First Nations woman, crowned Mrs. Universe
Wins beauty pageant in Belarus for married contestants
A 25-year-old from Alberta's Enoch Cree Nation has become the first First Nations woman and the first Canadian to win the Mrs. Universe pageant.
Ashley Callingbull, whose married name is Burnham, was crowned the winner in Belarus Saturday night.
"I'm really overwhelmed right now," Callingbull said.
"My phone is blowing up. Everything is blowing up. I love it."
The Mrs. Universe competition, which started in 2007, is an international beauty pageant that focuses on married contestants.
Callingbull said winning the Mrs. Universe crown is a blow against the stereotypes surrounding First Nations people. When competing in previous pageants, she said, she was judged for coming from the Enoch reserve, west of Edmonton, and told that she wasn't expected to place well in the competitions.
She gained attention after becoming the only First Nations contestant in the 2010 Miss Canada pageant. She said that while she got a lot of support, she was also the target of racist comments.
"A newspaper (wrote), 'What is she going to do for her talent, write a welfare cheque with her toes?'" Callingbull said.
"Just horrible, horrible things."
That made her only more determined to showcase her culture. During the competition, she wore a jingle dress, often worn during pow-wow dances. For the talent competition, Callingbull chose to sing a traditional song while wearing a white buckskin dress.
"Everything basically stated, 'This woman is First Nations native, and she's proud of it,'" she said.
'A success story'
Callingbull, who is a trained dancer and professional actress, has taken part in several pageants in the past. But she said she was particularly drawn to the 2015 Mrs. Universe competition because of its theme: battling domestic violence and child abuse.
As a survivor of sexual and physical abuse, she wanted the chance to help others dealing with the same pain.
"I was picking bottles for food. I would have never thought I'm going to be Mrs. Universe someday," she said.
"Growing up and dealing with that, I thought this is a perfect platform to share my story … to be a success story for them."
Callingbull said she hoped her win would be a blow to stereotypes about aboriginal contestants and encourage other First Nations women to participate.