For the University of Saskatchewan law student, participating in beauty pageants has always been more about a platform for positive speech than the stereotypical glitz, glam and fake tan.
The first Métis woman to be crowned Miss Universe Canada in 2016, catapulting her onto the world stage, Bearchell has used her pageant success to champion the rights of women and Indigenous peoples through public speaking.
Losing her family home to fire at age 16, spurred a young Bearchell’s passion for advocacy.
“I could have gone down a path of self-pity,” she explained. “Instead, I used it as an opportunity to reach out to people.”
She began volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross, choosing to share her own devastating life experience to help others overcome theirs. Shortly after, and wishing to further spread her positive message, she came across the Miss Teen Saskatchewan pageant.
“I didn’t enter the pageant for the typical reasons. There was a glamorous side to it for sure, but for me, it was more a way to see if I could raise my voice a little bit,” she said.
Proudly Métis and Saskatchewanian, hailing from Moose Jaw, Bearchell has never let being from a small community stand in the way of chasing big dreams.
“I’ve always had that pride that you can be from somewhere small and still do great things,” she said.
And winning pageants, including her victory at the 2016 Miss Universe Canada, has given her a golden opportunity to reach out to vulnerable groups on a global scale. A passionate advocate for women and Indigenous youth, Bearchell has done a lot of public speaking to high school-aged women, and has been a keynote speaker at the youth-focused WE Day in Saskatoon.
En route to her crown, Bearchell dealt with her fair share of criticism. “I could have taken a ‘woe is me’ attitude, but I chose to take the view that I won’t let it hold me back,” she explained.
Answering her critics, she said, “There is beauty beyond size. There is beauty beyond looking a particular way. It’s time to realize that true beauty, self-worth and validation start from within.”
It is this type of message that Bearchell is keen to impart—for women to free themselves of the stigma that they can’t achieve the things they want to, because of what they are, or are not.
“Women need to empower women, and that is the greatest challenge we face,” she said. “As women, we can be hard on ourselves, and on others. We are consumed by criticism, and we need to overcome this, to be kinder to ourselves.”
For all the opportunity and world travel her Miss Universe Canada title has afforded her, Bearchell is ecstatic to be back home in Saskatchewan and returning to school full-time. When asked why she pursued law, Bearchell explained that it seemed like the natural next step in her advocacy journey.
“When you’re in law, whether you’re a practising lawyer or not, you’re an advocate for others,” Bearchell said.
Set to graduate from the College of Law in spring 2018, Bearchell’s commitment to reconciliation, and improving access to justice for Indigenous peoples, has focused her study on Indigenous law.
“I noticed in my travels across Canada, that there is still a sense of ignorance for Indigenous issues,” she said. “I would like to see more education, particularly in high schools, drawing attention to and understanding the First Peoples of Canada. The issues Indigenous peoples face should not be ignored.”
Bearchell was recently named a U of S Canada 150 Citizen in recognition of the significant impact her volunteer work and public speaking have had in promoting a culture of inclusivity and diversity on campus and across the country.
“It’s wonderful to think that my actions and messages have had a positive impact on people,” she said of the honour. “It shows that one person can make a difference in the lives of others, and it encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Cat Bonner is a communications and alumni relations officer in the College of Law.