Akeshia Shkaabewis is proud of where she is in life, and justifiably so.
Shkaabewis, 25, will represent Whitefish River First Nation at the Miss Indian World pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico Apr. 25 to 29.
Shkaabewis was born in Sault Ste. Marie, raised in Blind River and is a member of Whitefish River First Nation, near Manitoulin Island.
“It’s always been a dream of mine, since I was very young.”
“I was at a really big pow wow in Toronto when I was little and I was representing my reserve as a junior contestant, I was nine or 10 years old and I met Onawa Lynn Lacy, who was Miss Indian World 2003,” Shkaabewis told SooToday.
“I tagged along with her like a little puppy the whole weekend, she was so nice,” Shkaabewis recalled.
“I just saw something in her and I thought that’s what I wanted to do. She was getting her Bachelor’s and she was really kind, I really got to talk to her back then…we got to walk into all the grand entries at the pow wow together, and because I was representing my community, I remembered her saying ‘maybe one day you can become Miss Indian World, too.’”
“I think that really started that in me.”
Shkaabewis has made amazing strides in spite of suffering from epilepsy.
She struggled with the affliction throughout high school before being properly diagnosed and given medication to deal with the disorder.
She is now an advocate for others who suffer from epilepsy.
“I’m really active and making sure I stay feeling well.”
Shkaabewis is going into Miss Indian World 2017-2018 prepared, as she represented Whitefish River First Nation at last year’s pageant.
Each year the pageant is open to young indigenous women, 18 to 25, from Canada or the U.S.
The Miss Indian World pageant is held as part of the large Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico annually.
“Whoever becomes Miss Indian World is a spokesperson for issues that affect Indian Country (indigenous people throughout North America).”
“She has the opportunity to discuss any issues she feels…I know the girl who is Miss Indian World this year (Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn, a resident of Phoenix, Arizona and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) and she is amazing.”
“She really wants to focus on the problem of suicides on the reserves, better health, and she’s studying law, she’s a good role model for youth.”
Shkaabewis is a full time Algoma University student, studying biology.
“I’ve got three exams left this week (before driving with her family to New Mexico for the pageant),” Shkaabewis chuckled as she spoke to SooToday by phone, showing her cheerful nature despite the demands of exams and a pageant.
Shkaabewis anticipates finishing her studies at Algoma in the near future, but further post-secondary education and her ultimate professional dream still lays ahead.
“Afterward, I’m applying to do my Masters in public health and I want to specialize in aboriginal health. Possibly after that, I’d like to become a doctor.”
“My dream is to become a doctor and be able to travel to First Nations and reservations and provide better health care in those areas.”
“I’m interested in our health, our education system we get put through on the reserves, cleaner water and also (investigate) the missing and murdered aboriginal women.”
As Miss Indian World, Shkaabewis said she would have a chance to draw greater attention to those issues.
There are 24 Miss Indian World contestants in this year’s pageant.
Shkaabewis said she is the only Ontario-based candidate this year, with other contestants from Alberta, Quebec and U.S. states as far apart as Alaska and North Carolina.
Shkaabewis said she enjoyed meeting and befriending indigenous women from tribes all over North America last year and is looking forward to the same experience this year.
“It was awesome, I made some amazing friends. We consider ourselves sisters. The pageant is about five days long, so we really bonded, it’s like a sisterhood.”
The pageant consists of a personal interview with the judges, a written essay, a public speaking component, a talent component and dance component.
Shkaabewis said she plans to showcase Ontario Woodland Indian quilting as her talent, and will perform jingle dress dancing during the dance component (also in traditional Woodland style).
Shkaabewis is the daughter of Don and Lucy Ann Trudeau, sister to Donnelley Trudeau (niece to her daughter Aanimikwam) and Donald Trudeau.
Though officially a resident of Whitefish River First Nation, many of her family members come from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to represent myself, my family, my community and my tribe at such a prestigious pageant,” Shkaabewis said.