Ashley Callingbull Burnham, 25, the first Canadian and the first First Nations woman to win the Mrs. Universe crown in Belarus is urging indigenous people to vote in the upcoming federal election to oust sitting Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Ashley wants the current government out because it’s put indigenous issues on the back burner, including its approach to missing and murdered aboriginal women. “There’s a lot of issues that aren’t addressed in First Nations communities, like for example the murder and missing women that I’ve been talking about in every interview. There are just a lot of things that we aren’t getting from the government. I believe that this government was created to work against us, and not for us.
“There are just so many problems with it for First Nations people. We’re always put on the back burner. With the bills that have been passed, we are being treated like terrorists if we’re fighting for our land and our water. It’s our right to, and now we’re being treated like terrorists if we do anything about it… It’s ridiculous,” she told CBC.
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a report indicating that 1,017 Aboriginal (i.e. Indigenous) women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012, with 164 Aboriginal women missing for longer than 30 days. The rate of victimization among Aboriginal females was close to three times higher than that of non-Aboriginal females. In its response to this report, Amnesty International-Canada noted that the RCMP had never before sought to clarify the level of violence against Indigenous women, and that its numbers may be incomplete.
“I think that the murdered and missing subject is so crucial. It’s so sad. Say, for example, a Caucasian woman is missing in the news, it’s a big deal, but for First Nations women we are just pushed aside because there’s so many of us missing,” Callingbull told APTN.
I urge all First Nations people in Canada to vote in this upcoming election. We are in desperate need of a new PM. Fight for your rights.
— Ashley (@AshCallingbull) August 31, 2015
Ashley wants to use the pain from her past, including a history of sexual abuse that she has overcome, to help other women heal. She hopes her win would be a blow to stereotypes about aboriginal contestants and encourage other First Nations women to participate. Her activism for women is as impressive as her First Nation activism.
In an interview with the National Post, Ashley, inspired to enter the competition because of its theme – battling child abuse and domestic violence, observed, “A lot of people don’t expect me to be up there and have a title because I’m First Nations. That’s how stereotypical society is and how racist it can be. I’m still experiencing some of that racism on some of my posts — some people are saying ‘I’m not a real Canadian,’ which is silly… People don’t expect a pageant girl to go out and say really crazy things right off the bat. They probably just expected me to have a title and be pretty and that’s it: be pretty and shut up. But I’m not going to shut up.”
During the competition, she wore a jingle dress, often worn during pow-wow dances. For the talent competition, she 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.
For the record, Mrs. Universe is a pageant about charity and human rights, participated by married women who have devoted themselves to their career, their family, and to a cause. There is no parading around in swimsuits.
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