Enoch Cree Nation member Ashley Burnham has become the first woman from the First Nations to win the Mrs. Universe pageant, capturing the 2015 award at a ceremony held in Minsk, Belarus.
According to mic.com, Burnham is also the first Canadian to hold the title. Mrs. Universe is a pageant for married women that is unaffiliated with the Miss Universe pageant.
"I'm so proud to say I am now the new @mrsuniverse2015 !!! I am the first First Nations woman to win this title! I am also the first Canadian Delegate to win as well!! Sooooooo happy right now!" Burnham wrote on Instagram.
The 25-year-old actress and model grew up in Enoch but moved to Hobbema (now Maskwacis), where she spent years living in poverty. She has spoken often about being beaten and raped and said her childhood was an unhappy one, spent in constant fear, reports National Post.
"With a supportive mother, Ashley has triumphed a childhood of sexual abuse and extreme poverty between Enoch and Hobbema Alberta," best-selling Canadian author Kelly Oxford also wrote on Instagram.
"In hopes of becoming a positive role model for other young First Nations women, she ignored the bigots who mocked, 'What will her talent be, drinking Lysol? Signing welfare cheques with her toes?'
"She is currently working towards her BA in Drama," Oxford continued.
"I'm typically anti-pageant and objectification of women, but believe Ashley will be such a positive inspiration for so many Canadian First Nations girls — who are the group of Canadians needing it the very, very most."
Unlike many pageants, the Mrs. Universe competition does not revolve around competitors’ physical appearance. There is no swimsuit portion and contestants are judged on their charity work, not their bikini bodies.
This year, the weeklong competition for married women featured extensive interviews and group discussions on how domestic violence affects women and children.
Burnham said she spent much of her childhood dealing with physical and sexual abuse. In a way, “this was the perfect pageant for me to be in,” she said.
“I’ve lived through it and can use it to help other people.”