Twenty-eight-year-old Leila Houle from Goodfish Lake First Nation is the new Ms. Edmonton, and she's heading to London, Ont. this month to compete in the national Ms. Canada pageant.
Houle works as the communications manager for Treaty 6 education. She decided to run after someone saw an article about the Ms. Edmonton competition in Alberta Sweetgrass and encouraged her to enter.
"The idea of beauty pageants is new to me ... I'm a humble person because that is how my kookum raised me," said Houle.
"It's not a beauty pageant, per se. It's about things that you have done in your community," she said. "I think I was chosen because of my confidence level, not because I am Native."
Ms. Edmonton contestants are judged primarily on an interview in which they have to demonstrate informed knowledge of a platform of their choosing. Houle ran on a platform of education and children's literacy.
"I think that it is very important for children, and First Nations children especially to learn to read at a young age. You hear stories of kids who don't know how to read and they're in Grade 10 and the teacher passes them because of their age...
"I know that for myself, I didn't learn the basics right away. I had to go through a resource centre, a special class for reading. And then I caught up and I was fine. I read all the time."
She said reading has become a lost past-time, with movies, television and the internet taking its place.
She said Edmonton has a program called Raise A Reader, where local celebrities, sports people and high profile journalists, attend the classroom and read a book to promote reading.
To qualify to become Ms. Edmonton, participants must be over 20 years old, unmarried, and have a record of participating in community service work. Ms. Edmonton must commit to a minimum of six public appearances over the course of a year in the city.
In addition to those qualifications, Houle is a graduate of the University of Alberta with a bachelor's degree in Native studies.
She started her education at Grant MacEwan College taking Native Communications. Her original plan was to become a sports journalist.
After a year of college she decided to switch to Native studies at the University of Alberta with the intention of becoming a lawyer.
"I took Native studies because I am interested in history from a balanced point of view. I did research on the facility itself and they have Metis and First Nations professors. I thought that was really interesting because I had taken history courses that to me seemed one-sided.
"I know that the non-Native side in the books that I went to high school with were not quite right, from listening to what my grandparents, aunties and uncles have said."
Once she attains her law degree, Houle said she hopes to one day run for chief of her nation.
"There are two women chiefs already in our area, and I think that with more younger women coming up and going to university and not going through so many of the obstacles that our mothers, aunties, and kookums went through to open the doors for us, I see more women chiefs in the next 10 to 20 years," she said.
The competition for Ms. Canada runs from March 17 to 20. Contestants compete in a formal pageant with an interview that counts for 50 per cent of the score. An evening gown portion and an aerobics wear competition replaces the bathing suit competition of more traditional pageants.
"I want to be a good role model for other young Aboriginal women in that I had the same life as them, I grew up on a reserve. I'd like to do lots of things like fundraisers, golf tournaments, powwows to help out our community.
"I'd like to travel to see different Native cultures. The farthest east I have been is Winnipeg."
Houle may get her travel wish if she is successful in London. The winner of Ms. Canada goes on the Ms. World pageant in Chicago.