Last year, Alberta beauty queen Ashley Callingbull took home the Mrs. Universe crown, as the debut Canadian winner. Not only was the 27-year-old actress the first Canuck to be crowned in the pageant, she was also the first ever indigenous woman to win the title. Callingbull, who was born on the Enoch Cree Nation reservation, has become an impressive role model in the First Nations community.
From drawing attention to issues surrounding poverty to keeping her culture alive through traditional art, the beautiful and strong Callingbull has become a voice for native youth.
Recently, Real Style sat down with her at the recent Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School at Toronto’ Bata Shoe Museum. Here’s what Callingbull had to say about winning Mrs. Universe, raising awareness through crafting mukluks and competing on The Amazing Race Canada.
Real Style: What was your reaction when you were titled Mrs. Universe in 2015?
Ashley: It was really exciting. You never know who is going to win, so it was a really proud moment for me when I won. I was the first indigenous woman and first Canadian to win, and I thought right then and there that I can use this title for change. I can use it to have a voice and speak for others. It was a great way for me to raise awareness and call out the government.
Real Style: Describe your involvement with the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School.
Ashley: I am the ambassador for the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School. I’ve been raising awareness for them and reaching out to as many people as I can. What they’re doing is actually very important, because it’s culture and they are trying to keep the art of making mukluks and moccasins alive. To me, culture is so important because culture saved my life when I was growing up. I lived through poverty and abuse, so I could have went down the wrong path. Instead, I pushed myself into my culture. That was being positive, staying away from alcohol and drugs and going to ceremonies. Because of culture, I am the strong woman I am today. Anything that is intertwined with learning about my culture, or educating indigenous and non-indigenous people, is really important to me. This is something that you don’t want to lose.
Real Style: Tell us more about your passion for traditional arts, crafts and design.
Ashley: I finally am learning how to bead. It’s interesting because I have beaders in my family, but I’ve never learned because they have beaded for me. I have beaded regalia that I wear at all my powwows. But this is the first time that I’m actually learning how to make mukluks. It’s really interesting for me, because now I can tell my stories through the boots. I’m Cree, so florals are what we use.
Real Style: The native culture has such a rich artistic heritage. Do you see this represented in the Canadian fashion industry?
Ashley: You are finally seeing more native designers in the media, which is great. Bethany Yellowtail, for example, her work is being used all over in the States. You’re seeing more indigenous models, like Jade Willoughby who is in Vogue, and that’s amazing. She came from a really small community. Even actresses and actors, like my friend Martin Sensmeier, who was in The Magnificent Seven. He’s one of the seven and has a lead role. The more representation we have, the better.
Real Style: You also recently came in third place on The Amazing Race Canada, along with your dad. How was this experience?
Ashley: It was unbelievable and one of the best experiences of my life. We always wanted to do The Amazing Race. We were fans of The Amazing Race in the States, and when it came to Canada, we wanted to do it. I couldn’t because I was filming Blackstone at the time, but once I wasn’t filming it, I thought this was a perfect time to apply. When we found it, we thought this is great- we can be role models for First Nations people. That was our goal- to make it to the final without getting cut from the entire race! It really opened my eyes to the world. I’ve never seen things like that before.
Real Style: What were some highlights of the show, looking back?
Ashley: Conquering my fear of heights was really difficult for me. I fell from a sky tram, a gondola, in Jasper, and I had to fly a plane by myself. That’s something that I never thought I would see myself doing- and eating bugs! What I realized is that you should never limit yourself. During the race, there are points where you hit lows, you’re just so exhausted. But then out of nowhere, you find strength within yourself that you never knew you had.
Real Style: Who were some of your biggest role models growing up?
Ashley: My mom and my grandparents, mostly. My grandmother (kokum, that’s what we call her in my language) kept me on the right path. They [my grandparents] were a medicine man and a medicine woman. They devoted their lives to helping people. I saw the happiness that it brought to them. I wanted to be just like them, because they did so many good things and it was something I really looked up to. It made me humble and thankful for life.
Real Style: Do you have any future projects that you’re working on?
Ashley: I’m going to be doing a film and I have two other projects in the works starting in December. There’s a series, and then another film in the summer. I’m going to be really busy, but I’m still going to be doing all the motivational speaking that I do with the youth. I’m going to be going to Standing Rock at the end of the month. It’s really important to me for native people to unite, whether they be in the U.S. or in Canada.