Siera Bearchell’s pursuit of a law degree has been put on hold.
But it’s not your everyday leave of absence. The 23-year-old Métis from Moose Jaw has completed two years of law school at the University of Saskatchewan. But Bearchell now plans to take a year off of her studies in order to fulfill her responsibilities of being Miss Universe Canada.
Bearchell won the pageant title in mid-June in Toronto, beating out 63 other entrants. Besides representing the country at various events throughout Canada and the world during the upcoming year, Bearchell has also qualified to compete at the Miss Universe contest later this year, at a site yet to be announced.
The aspiring lawyer sees plenty of gaps to fill when it comes to awareness of indigenous issues.
“Students aren’t taught a lot about indigenous culture at school, and I’d like to see that change,” she told Canadian Lawyerafter her win. “I took an indigenous law class, and I think more needs to be done in terms of exposing students to that area of the law.”
In 2014 the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) bestowed upon Bearchell its Helen Bassett Student Award, given annually to indigenous women pursuing post-secondary studies and demonstrating a commitment to "improving the situation of indigenous women and youth in Canada politically, culturally, economically, or otherwise," as the organization describes it.
“We at the Native Women’s Association of Canada are immensely proud of our 2014 Helen Bassett Student Award recipient, Siera Bearchell," said NWAC President Dawn Lavell-Harvard in a statement. "Her tireless devotion to community involvement and promotion of Indigenous culture makes Siera a true inspiration for young aboriginal women.”
ICTMN caught up with Bearchell for a chat about the win, her pageant history and future endeavors.
How did you get involved with pageants?
Back in 2009 my family lost our house to a fire, and we were helped out quite a bit by the Red Cross. I started volunteering for them after that. When I heard about the Miss Teen Saskatchewan contest I thought I’d enter that because it would be a good way to give back to the community. I ended up winning Miss Teen Saskatchewan, Miss Teen Canada, and was the first runner-up at Miss Teen World.
Was this the first year you entered the Miss Universe Canada contest?
This was actually the second time I took part. I entered this pageant in 2013 and was the first runner-up. Pageant fans are quite passionate, and a lot of them were encouraging me to enter again this year. Obviously I’m glad that I did now.
How long to you plan on competing in pageants?
The Miss Universe pageant will be it for me. This is the ultimate one. My ultimate dream was to represent Canada at the Miss Universe event.
When is that competition?
It will probably be in December. But they haven’t announced where it will be yet. I’ve heard it might be in Vegas or in the Philippines. And I’ve heard it might be in Mexico. Those would all be great spots for it.
How do you expect to do at the Miss Universe pageant?
There are usually 90 to 100 competitors. Of course I want to crack the semifinals for Canada, which would be a Top 16 or Top 20 finish. For sure I want to do at least that. I don’t think Canada has had anybody make it to the semifinals since 2007. But of course everybody that enters wants to win.
Now that you’ve won Miss Universe Canada, what are your responsibilities for the next year?
It’s going to be a lot of work, and I’m going to be seeking out a lot of opportunities. I’ve been doing a lot of community work, and I want to continue doing that for different organizations. I want to show people you can use a platform like this to do a lot of good. I would like to travel to Kenya and I would like to travel to Nicaragua and help out with charitable organizations there.
How will that affect your schooling?
I’ve finished two years of law school and I have one more to go. But I will be taking one year off of school now in order to do this. School will always be there for me to go back to.
What are you planning to do to alleviate the stereotyping of pageant winners?
I will be showing people that beauty pageants are about more than just wearing a sash. I want to raise awareness about some of the aboriginal issues we have in Canada. And I want to unite and educate people. For example, I care a lot about the environment. And I’m going to do my best to put a stop to some things going on out there.
Photo: Courtesy Siera Bearchell, Miss Universe Canada