Pageant queen, makeup artist breaking barriers as Indigenous women in beauty industry

Ashley Callingbull is from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta but lives in Saskatoon Sask., where she hosts for the Saskatchewan Rush and travels to Edmonton to co-host for the Elks. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)
Ashley Callingbull is from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta but lives in Saskatoon Sask., where she hosts for the Saskatchewan Rush and travels to Edmonton to co-host for the Elks. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)

Ashley Callingbull is a woman of many faces. She's an actress, model and pageant winner, will soon be an author and is getting ready to compete in Miss Universe Canada for the second time.

She's been in the pageant world since she was 18 years old. The 34-year-old has faced racism and other barriers but has accomplished many great things and is helping break barriers for other Indigenous women.

Callingbull has appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and in ads for Reitmans, and Hillberg and Berg.

She said it took a lot of passion, drive and determination to get to where she is today. She didn't look like other pageant girls with her dark skin, dark hair and "native nose," but said she knew she had to get past that mindset.

"As an Indigenous woman, I had to fight even harder to be in these spaces," she said.

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Callingbull said that when she first started out in pageants, she heard racist comments about Lysol and welfare. But after local media reported on some of these comments, Callingbull started seeing more and more Indigenous people in the crowd cheering for her and offering their support.

"I feel like society's view of Indigenous women in beauty has changed, but not enough," she said. "There's more progression that can definitely be made."

Callingbull is busy prepping for the finals of Miss Universe Canada. If she were to win and go to New Mexico to represent Canada in November, she would be the first First Nations woman to do so.

"I always want to encourage people to love and appreciate themselves for the way the creator made them," said Callingbull.

"I feel that we were made this way for a reason. We should be thankful for that and to live fearlessly to never let fear stop you from chasing your biggest wildest dreams."

Bringing out inner beauty

Nicole Akan uses her business Daybird Beauty to teach holistic beauty and how to use makeup to enhance what the creator gave you.

Akan works with the Fort Qu'Appelle Tribal Council during the day, and does makeup services during evenings and weekends.

She also teaches makeup workshops to Indigenous women, young and old.

Nicole Akan, from Muskowekwan First Nation, does makeup at a Mother's Day event in her home community.
Nicole Akan, from Muskowekwan First Nation, does makeup at a Mother's Day event in her home community.

Nicole Akan, from Muskowekwan First Nation, does makeup at a Mother's Day event in her home community. (Submitted by Nicole Akan)

Akan said Indigenous women wear many hats in their community and often don't have time for self-care.

"My favourite part about doing makeup is seeing their smile. It's just so amazing," she said. "It's the first time they're witnessing their own beauty."

Akan said she has had women in the workshops who were in their 70s and had never worn makeup before.

"That just felt like such an honour," said Akan " Whenever I do somebody's makeup, I look at it as if it's like an energy transfer."

Akan's favourite part is giving her clients the mirror to take a look.

"I always said if you look good, you feel good,"  said Akan. "Makeup … doesn't take away your inner or true beauty, it helps with confidence."

Cheryle Crowe got her makeup and lashes done by Daybird Beauty at a Mother's Day event in her community.
Cheryle Crowe got her makeup and lashes done by Daybird Beauty at a Mother's Day event in her community.

Cheryle Crowe got her makeup and lashes done by Daybird Beauty at a Mother's Day event in her community. (Submitted by Nicole Akan)

Cheryle Crowe, 62, is one of the women Akan has done makeup for.

Crowe, from Muskowekwan First Nation, was attending a Mother's Day event in her community when she came across Daybird.

Crowe said she was hesitant, but after watching other ladies get their makeup and lashes done, she decided to give it a shot.

"When I was done with the makeover and how I looked, I said, 'Oh my God, that's me,'" said Crowe. "She really made me feel good that day."

Crowe said she is happy to see a company like Daybird Beauty teaching makeup lessons in communities.

"I told her, 'I wish I could take you home with me so you could do this to me every morning.'"