APTN National News
Hot on the heels of her Mrs. Universe crown this past weekend, Ashley Burnham is using her new fame to call on Aboriginal people to vote out the Conservative party and its leader Stephen Harper in the upcoming election.
“It’s so crucial that we vote a new prime minister in, because we need a new prime minister,” said Burnham, from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta. “I believe we need to fight for our rights and we need to vote.”
Burnham, 25, won Mrs. Universe 2015 on Saturday in Minsk, Belarus, becoming the first Canadian and First Nations woman to win the title for married women.
Winning has catapulted the actress and model into the national and international spotlight.
She is using her voice to raise awareness of issues affecting Canada’s Indigenous people.
“Now that I have this title people are actually listening to me, which is amazing because now I have a voice,” said Burnham.
The top issue addressed in the Mrs. Universe competition was discussing ways to combat domestic violence. On the top of Burnham’s list is the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“I think that the murdered and missing subject is so crucial. It’s so sad. Say, for example, a Caucasian woman is missing in the news, it’s a big deal, but for First Nations women we are just pushed aside because there’s so many of us missing,” said Burnham.
It’s issues like this and the adversarial relationship between the Conservative government and Canada’s Aboriginal people that are compelling Burnham to urge her fans to vote in the upcoming federal election.
And she plans to speak out while traveling around the world as Mrs. Universe in the next year.
“Other countries need to know what’s going on in ours. It feels like the government just does not care about us (First Nations),” she said. “This government is very controlling of our people and soon enough our rights might be taken away. And if I have that voice to bring awareness, I’m going to use it.”
Burnham grew up in poverty between the two reserves of Maskwacis and Enoch in Alberta. She was sexually molested as a young child and knows first-hand about the cycle of abuse.
Her mother Lisa Ground, also a beauty pageant title holder as Mrs. North America Globe, said the two are on a healing journey together and that sharing their story will help bring further awareness to MMIW.
“When I was in an abusive relationship, when we got out we needed police protection, we had to escape… we’ve (Ashley and I) grown together and we’re overcoming the horrific things that have happened to both of us,” said Ground.
She added that she’s cried many tears of joy since her daughter’s big win and that their lives now a day are filled with hope.
“We are so excited for her, we cheered and we are still cheering, said the proud mom.
Burnham has come a long way from growing up facing much adversity. After establishing a successful modeling career, then starring in APTN’s successful TV drama series Blackstone she also experienced racism and discrimination during her early years competing in beauty pageants. Overcoming those challenges has proved rewarding for Burnham.
Burnham said she has received an outpouring of support from fans and credits her family and husband Ryan Burnham for helping to keep her grounded amidst the whirlwind of sudden mainstream success.
She encourages anyone to follow their dreams no matter where they come from.
“No matter what your background is or what you’ve been through in your life you can push yourself to reach the success that you dream of,” she said. “I think that you shouldn’t let fear hold you back and I believe that even though we’re First Nations we can succeed in any aspect of our lives, we can make it big time.”
Ashley’s first official public appearance as Mrs. Universe will be at a MMIW fundraiser called Fashion Speaks in Kamloops, B.C. Sept. 16 along with her mother.