Canada Ashley Burnham (C) celebrates after being crowned Mrs.
Universe during the Mrs. Universe 2015 pageant final in Minsk
on August 29, 2015. (photo by Sergei Gapon / AFP/Getty Images
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.
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."
Ashley Callingbull, whose married name is Burnham, became the
first Canadian and first woman from a First Nation to win the Mrs.
Universe pageant. She took the title on Aug. 29, 2015, in Belarus.
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, Callingbuill 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
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