Ashley Callingbull says First Nations rights 'slowly being taken from us'

Vote. That's the message Mrs. Universe had for indigenous students at the University of Manitoba Friday.

Winner of beauty pageant urges indigenous students to vote, raise profile of First Nations issues in Canada

Ashley Callingbull, who won the Mrs. Universe contest in August, spoke to indigenous students at the University of Manitoba Friday about the importance of voting in the federal election. (CBC)

Vote. That's the message Mrs. Universe had for indigenous students at the University of Manitoba Friday.

The beauty pageant winner whose name is Ashley Callingbull was the keynote speaker at a panel discussion about how indigenous vote can affect the federal election. 

Callingbull said aboriginal issues need to come to the forefront of the election campaign.

"I feel like First Nations issues aren't being heard. They're not being dealt with. We are not a priority. You know, we're Canadian citizens as well," she said. "We're human beings and we're not being treated as such. And I think it's time that we have a new government."

'Our rights are slowly being taken from us'

She said students need to start paying attention to what politicians hoping to be elected are saying.

"What parties are offering and what parties aren't offering because we got to focus on our  rights. We never want to lose our rights and it feels like our rights are slowly being taken from us," she said. "And that's not right at all." 

Callingbull, originally from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, was the first Canadian and the first First Nations person to win the international beauty contest in August.

She has added her voice to others calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and said First Nations have to make their voices heard. 
Ashley Burnham, who won the "Mrs Universe 2015" contest in Minsk, Belarus, in August, is in Winnipeg Friday to inspire First Nations young people to vote in the federal election Oct. 19. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

"It's dangerous to be a First Nations woman in this country because we are not as important as other women in this country," she said Friday. "We're not considered a priority by our own government and what does the government say about us? It makes us feel like we're belittled on so many levels."

She said it's been a bit overwhelming since winning the Mrs. Universe title.

"It's crazy. I'm a pageant girl, actress and I do a lot of charity work so it's crazy to see that a girl winning a pageant getting this much exposure especially politically. It's really surprising and shocking," she said. But it's a role she is now embracing.

"People are actually looking up to me and they're actually reaching out to me. I'm actually making a difference and I have this huge influence on the vote now. So it's a crazy thing but, you know, it's a very proud and humbling moment that I'm changing lives," she said with a laugh. 
Ashley Callingbull of Alberta's Enoch Cree Nation was the first First Nations woman and the first Canadian to win the Mrs. Universe pageant. (Facebook )

The event to encourage aboriginal students to vote, has been organized by the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students and is being held at the University of Manitoba's Migizii Agamik Indigenous Student Centre, 

Callingbull was the keynote speaker. 

Other speakers included the recently-elected Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak or MKO, the group representing Manitoba's northern chiefs, Sheila North Wilson. 

Kevin Hart, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Terry Nelson, Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, were also on the panel.