After being crowned this year’s Miss Teen Canada Ambassador in April, Wabiguin Bearskin has embarked on an exciting journey to represent the Cree Nation at fashion shows around the world.
Ahead of this November’s Miss Teen Universe pageant in Orlando, Florida, the 14-year-old will be gracing runways from New York to Paris to Dubai throughout September. Amidst plans for over 200 fashion shows worldwide, she’s also slated to attend the Cree Nation’s Annual General Assembly in Eastmain on October 24.
“I’m most excited about the travelling and the experience,” Bearskin told the Nation. “I’ve loved travelling since I was a little girl. I’m also excited about New York because my grandparents are coming for the first time to my show, and it means a lot to me.”
Determined to be a supermodel since she was six, an opportunity to submit a short video skit when she was eight led to a successful audition in Ottawa. From the approximately 700 participants, she was selected as one of the top two or three to attend a prestigious showcase in Los Angeles.
“That’s where everything took flight,” recalled her mother, Stella (Masty) Mishtayabimiko. “When we went to Los Angeles, she had about 11 offers of agencies, which included Disney, Nickelodeon and Netflix. She worked with super elite model coaches and had the opportunity to attend a couple of workshops with producers from The Voice.”
While it was scary stepping on stage that first time, Bearskin felt reassured by her mom’s support and soon realized she was meant for this. Reading scripts and preparing for auditions has become a fun bonding activity for the family, who have always encouraged her to discover her real passion.
“I always tell her to be herself, not to pretend to be someone she’s not,” said Mishtayabimiko. “It’s just a way for us to connect. We have a lot of laughs. It’s encouraging her creative or dramatic side to blossom.”
In the years after making a big splash in LA, the two travelled to auditions, acting classes and workshops around the continent. There have been discussions to appear in print ads and she was prepared to sign a Netflix contract before the show was unfortunately cancelled during the Covid pandemic.
“The best advice we got was when we met with Disney and Nickelodeon at a café,” Mishtayabimiko said. “They told her enjoy your life as a kid. Go out there and have fun because once the industry takes a hold of you it’s a lot of work. They want her to make some noise on social media, then they’ll come back to reach out for her.”
Becoming Miss Teen Canada Ambassador was unexpected. They had arrived at a fashion show in Toronto a day early and were persuaded by the pageant’s director to try out. Although Bearskin hadn’t prepared beforehand, her poise and thoughtful answers made an immediate impression.
“One of the proudest moments for me was when the judges asked her what she thought of the competition,” shared Mishtayabimiko. “She said: ‘For me this is not a competition – this is a bunch of young girls and women supporting and encouraging each other. We need more of that in this world.’ Everyone in the crowd was like ‘Wow.’”
Bearskin cried when she was announced the winner, so shocked to hear her name that it took a moment for her to collect the crown. Her message came from the heart, inspired by the pageant’s positive energy and how the girls were so nice to each other as they got their hair and makeup done.
“In Eeyou Istchee, you see girls being mean and gossiping about each other,” said Bearskin. “It was a very different environment, and I enjoyed it a lot. I realized I have to spread this message that girls have to empower each other instead of trying to break each other down.”
People can follow her upcoming events and contribute to Bearskin’s travel costs on her recently developed website, missteenambassador.ca. Her stated mission is to educate the world about the Cree Nation and advocate for mental health, special needs and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls awareness.
While Bearskin says her biggest dream is to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine, she also hopes to one day take business classes in college and learn to speak and write in Cree. Her late great-grandmother gave Wabiguin her Cree name, which means “the first white flower to bloom in the spring, even when there is still some snow.”
After taking some time following the Miss Teen Canada pageant to finish her school year, establish her brand and reflect upon her new status, coming to the Cree princess pageant in Chisasibi in August reaffirmed for mother and daughter the significance of why they’re doing this.
“The love and support they showed her, I’m at a loss for words,” confessed Mishtayabimiko. “People were telling me I thought this was just a pageant but watching these girls grow and blossom is something else. We have to start supporting our youth and not talk about them in the future tense – they are important now.”
Danielle Sealhunter, who was crowned Miss Chisasibi, thanked Bearskin and her mother for organizing a pageant workshop that helped contestants overcome their stage fright. As Bearskin transforms global catwalks into platforms for inclusivity and cultural pride, she is showing younger Cree girls that they too can celebrate their uniqueness and achieve their dreams.
“It was so nice to see little girls come up to me because I was once that little girl,” Bearskin said. “Never let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful because you are. Anything is possible – you just have to put your mind to it. If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter