By now you’ve probably heard that a 25-year-old woman from Alberta’s Enoch Cree Nation has become the first First Nations woman and the first Canadian to win the Mrs. Universe pageant.
Like me, you were probably on your computer when you heard the news about Ashley Callingbull. And you might have dismissed it, but Callingbull is not like other Mrs. Universe winners: Ashley Callingbull is a badass role model to women all across the world.
Since her crowning, she’s used her spotlight in a positive and engaging way, not shying away from potentially taboo topics. Callingbull has spoken out on the upcoming federal Canadian election, going on record as saying, “We are being treated like terrorists if we’re fighting for our land and our water,” and using her status to raise awareness of First Nations people and the importance of voting, explaining in this CBC article that “just one vote can make a difference.”
Facing adversity as a young Cree woman, Ashley has shared that much of her childhood dealt with physical and sexual abuse while living in poverty. She tells Edmonton Journal, “I think my culture saved me” after childhood abuse, and for those reasons she is fighting to bring indigenous issues to light and to tackle First Nations stereotypes head-on. While she continues to be positive, Ashley shares that “Harper fans are sharing photos I took at Idle No More protests and calling me a racist. Then they tell me to go back on welfare,” and because of these challenges, she uses her voice for good.
In an interview with CBC, Callingbull said, “There is such a huge stereotype on First Nations people, that we can’t succeed, we can’t make it big time, but I did. I made history.” To find a woman so relentlessly proud of her heritage and how it’s presented in mainstream culture is motivational and impactful, not just to First Nations women, but to women around the world.
While other pageant winners might shy away from taking a hard stance on controversial issues, Callingbull has voiced her opinion fearlessly. The fact is, Callingbull has been speaking from her heart, and people appreciate that.
“I have a title, a platform and a voice to make change and bring awareness to First Nations issues here in Canada,” she told ET Canada. “I’m not your typical beauty queen. Look out… I have a voice for change, and I’m going to use it!”
She has shattered our preconceived notions of how beauty pageant winners are, the typical stereotypes being that these queens lack intelligence or are just shallow and beautiful. But she has inner beauty, and she brings diversity, cultural representation and a reminder that all women are complex, regardless of who they are.