Cree model Ashley Callingbull is helping inspire a new generation of Indigenous stars

·2 min read
Ashley Callingbull winning the title of Mrs. Universe contest in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters - image credit)
Ashley Callingbull winning the title of Mrs. Universe contest in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters - image credit)

A decade after participating in her first pageant, Enoch Cree First Nation's Ashley Callingbull is now sharing her wisdom and experience with the next generation of Indigenous pageant girls.

And she is doing it while also making big moves in her own career, most recently, by signing with one of the top international modelling agencies in the country, Next Models Canada.

"It's honestly, really exciting," she told CBC's Edmonton AM Monday.

"I feel really honoured. It's such a surprise because if I think back to my childhood as a young girl, I would have never imagined things like this for myself."

The new deal marks another milestone for Callingbull becoming the first Indigenous model to sign a contract with Next Models Canada, the agency confirmed.

"We are thrilled for her to be a part of the Next family," Lorraine Hartnett, agency director at Next told CBC in an email.

'And then I let them shine'

Callingbull, from Enoch Cree Nation in central Alberta, has seen a stellar rise in her career since her first pageant in 2010 when she took part in Miss Canada.

In 2015 she became the first First Nations woman and the first Canadian to win the Mrs. Universe crown, a competition honouring married women.

While she has retired from pageant life, she has been making big moves in the industry with major contracts with the likes of Canadian jewlery brand Hillberg and Berk and international sports brand Nike.

Over the past seven years, Callingbull has been quietly helping young Indigenous girls and women in Alberta, Northwest Territories, Ontario and even the United States with pageants.

"For me, I'm just in the background. I'm just helping them, you know, getting them ready and letting them know what it's really like and helping them through sponsorships," she said.

"And then I let them shine."

Scott Neufeld/CBC
Scott Neufeld/CBC

Callingbull said she works with girls on an individual basis, coaching them and helping coordinate designers for clothing.

She also sponsors fees and flights for the girls all out of her own pocket.

Callingbull is helping support young Indigenous women in an industry where she herself faced a lot of negativity and racism when she was starting out.

"A lot of people will try to attack me or try to call out stereotypes of Indigenous people and try to associate me with that. So that was extremely difficult," she said.

Although she said the industry is changing and becoming more inclusive, she still feels like the current crop of Indigenous pageants could use some guidance.

"I had to break so many barriers just to get there and to make this transition for them easier and to feel accepted and to feel like they have a good support system that makes me so happy," she said.

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