Elle Beaver brings you profiles of the women who are shaping the 2015 federal election (#elxn42), the pundits, spin-doctors, journalists and activists who are making headlines, shaping our political landscape and who are vying for YOUR vote! In this edition, we focus on Ashley Callingbull Burnham, the badass Cree beauty queen and activist who has taken the political stage by storm.
“Did you really think I would just sit there and look pretty?”
It was the retort heard across the country, the comeback that assured Canada that Ashley Callingbull Burnham — the Enoch Cree belle — isn’t just a beauty queen, but rather a political force of nature determined to bring Indigenous peoples to cast their ballot in the 2015 elections.
It was a riposte to angry government apologists, who called out Callingbull Burnham, asking her “Why not ask to speak to Mr. Harper, and ask him personally any questions you have? You attack a man that you have never met. You attack his character and his professional position, only because you won a beauty pageant.”
Code: shut up and look pretty. And ask nicely, like good girl. Callingbull Burnham took to Facebook, posting:
People think I’m too political for my first day as Mrs. Universe. (…) I have a title, a platform and a voice to make change and bring awareness to First Nations issues here in Canada. I’m getting all this media attention and I’m going to use it to the best of my ability. I’m not your typical beauty queen. Look out… I have a voice for change and I’m going to use it!
Since her win late last month, Callingbull Burnham has encouraged Indigenous peoples across the country to vote out Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asserting that Canada needs a new leader. “We can change the future,” she told media late last week. “We suffer, our future generations are going to suffer. So yes, we do need to vote because it is a crucial time.”
Callingbull Burnham has also stood for the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, strutting the runway for the Fashion Speaks fundraiser, which benefited Families of Sisters in Spirit, and speaking up on behalf of WhoIsShe.ca, a community-driven movement that aims to ensure the safety of Indigenous women. She has joined forces with other noted Canadians like David Suzuki, Leonard Cohen and Rachel McAdams in the Leap Manifesto, urging the government to make the switch from fossil fuels and leap into a green economy.
Callingbull Burnham isn’t afraid to get political, making it clear that she will use her voice and platform to drive positive social change for Indigenous people, even if it means tackling politically charged (and for an Indigenous woman: potentially subversive) issues like Bill C-51, a bill that places Indigenous peoples squarely in the crosshairs of a repressive government policy that would brand them as terrorists. In an interview with CBC’s Power and Politics, Callingbull Burnham asserted, “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.”
Taking to Facebook, Callingbull Burham makes her intentions to challenge government institutions clear:
A lot of countries are facing the some problems as First Nations people and Canadians. We need to all come together and protest what we deserve as human beings. We can’t be silenced by our governments.
And so it is unsurprising (but terribly exciting!) that on meeting Ashley Callingbull Burnham, Canadian scientific icon David Suzuki called her his hero. But to us, she’s the ultimate shero — and a powerful, bright new voice for change.
Read our Women of #ELXN42 profile of Elizabeth May, Margaret Atwood, Jenni Byrne, Zunera Ishaq, and Rosemary Barton and stay tuned for a profile of Up for Debate! Donate to causes Ashley Callingbull Burnham has supported: WhoIsShe.ca, Families of Sisters in Spirit, or sign the LeapManifesto.
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