'A perfect platform': Canadian Mrs. Universe on embracing First Nations culture to survive abuse
Published Monday, August 31, 2015 7:25AM EDT
The Alberta First Nations woman who won this year's Mrs. Universe pageant wants to use her title as a platform to speak about the kinds of physical and sexual abuse she experienced as a child.
Ashley Burnham, 25, says she survived physical and sexual abuse during her childhood by embracing her Cree heritage, rather than turning to drugs or alcohol.
"I pushed myself into my culture, into my beliefs and my traditions, and I used that to find myself and to heal," Burnham told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.
She also used her beliefs and traditions to help win the Mrs. Universe pageant in Belarus on Saturday.
In the traditional costume segment of the competition, for example, Burnham wore a jingle dress like the one she often wears at powwows, customized in shiny red, white, and silver colours, with maple leaves sewn onto it. And in the talent competition, Burnham wore a buckskin dress and performed a traditional dance.
"I basically tried to showcase my culture throughout the whole pageant, because in Europe, they don't really see that. They just see whatever is in the mainstream," Burnham said.
Burnham says she was drawn to the competition this year, because of its domestic violence theme.
"I thought, this is a perfect platform for me because I'm relatable to people, I've experienced this myself and I'm able to speak about it," she said. "I'm glad I'm able to use this title as a way to speak for others that can't speak for themselves."
Burnham, who hails from the Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton, Alta., is the first Canadian to win the Mrs. Universe pageant for married women.
She said she's been overwhelmed by all the positive feedback she's had since she was crowned the winner.
"It's a lot to take in because the amount of support that I'm receiving is huge," she said.
On Monday, Burnham shared her surprise on Instagram when she noticed she was one of the hottest trending topics on social media, ahead of Justin Bieber.
She also posted several photos from the Mrs. Universe contest to her Instagram account over the weekend.