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“This place is disgusting,” she remembers thinking.
“Maybe I am too.” In a childhood that was broadly horrific, the smaller indignities stood out: the day her Value Village shoes were stolen at school; the racism she and the other First Nations kids endured when they were bused to a nearby town and pelted with clumps of dirt and rocks by waiting students.
“A lot of First Nations people talk about the same things I talk about, but no one cared to listen,” she says.
“And now, because a pageant girl won a title, people say, ‘Oh my god, it’s crazy what she’s saying!
’ ” She knows the reason for the attention, of course: the apparent incongruity between who she is and what she looks like.
“They don’t expect a pageant girl to say political things,” she says.
Callingbull has exploited this failure of imagination, taking delight in busting open stereotypes, but at times, the need to explain herself gets wearying. “They look at me and they don’t think I’ve had the life I’ve had.” That life was, for a long time, an extremely difficult one.
As an infant, Callingbull lived with her mother and grandparents in Enoch Cree Nation.
Universe — a pageant for married women that judges contestants, in part, on their advocacy work — she knew she might get some media attention. “This is the perfect time to tell the truth.” The next day, her title just a few hours old, she wrote a note on her Facebook wall.She walked to centre stage and accepted the crown, punching the air in triumph.Callingbull is a 26-year-old from Enoch Cree Nation, just west of Edmonton.Dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt and dangling beaded earrings with eagle’s feathers at their centre, Callingbull is as unabashedly forthright in person as she is in her public appearances.In her brief time in the spotlight, she has observed the world of politics from a slightly closer vantage, and she’s come away unimpressed. “You’re being this , you’re telling people what they want to hear, you’re talking out of your ass.” Callingbull has embraced her new role as a voice for indigenous issues, but it’s been a somewhat awkward fit — not just because she is an exuberant twentysomething but because, in her view, so many others have been raising these issues for years.