Manitoba First Nations mother strives to inspire others, challenge beauty norms at Miss Indigenous Canada pageant

Ocean Bruyere was seriously considering just going to sleep.

The deadline to apply for Miss Indigenous Canada was that night – a few hours away.

The 27-year-old Anishinaabe mother from Manitoba’s Sagkeeng First Nation was feeling exhausted from the work she does in the community — as a teacher, an action therapist, and a mentor for youth.

“Maybe I should just go to bed,” Bruyere thought to herself. “I think I laid there for about a half an hour.”

But something motivated her. “I gotta at least say I tried,” she recounted.

Becoming a model was a childhood dream for Bruyere – one she lost sight of through adolescence and early adulthood.

“I didn’t have the resources or support that I needed, so I kind of didn’t really pursue it until I became the age of 24-ish,” she told CityNews.

That’s when she began gradually working with Indigenous designers in Manitoba.

“I realized I got to determine my own success of what that looks like for me.”

Three years later, one of those successes came in the form of an email from the admissions committee at Miss Indigenous Canada.

“All I could read was congratulations. … I was sitting by myself at first and then I went up to my friends and I was trying to tell them that I got selected. All I could do was stutter,” Bruyere recalled.

“I said it really fast, and we all just started screaming. That whole night, even the next day, I kept saying, I can’t believe it.”

Ocean Bruyere says she’s looking forward to meeting the other contestants at Miss Indigenous Canada so she can learn from them. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Bruyere’s last-minute application was selected among the more than 350 entries across Canada. She will represent Treaty 1 in Manitoba at the July 27 pageant in Ohsweken, Ont.

“I’ve been reading about all the other contestants and their stories and what they do. I think what I’m most excited about is just meeting them all because I love being around other very empowering women and learning for them. I believe in networking, in sisterhood. I believe in lifting each other up. Sometimes lifting each other up is just listening to each other’s stories.”

Part of the challenge for Bruyere will be getting to Ohsweken. The Manitoba mom, who works as an Indigenous Way of Life educator within the Winnipeg School Division, is raising funds to afford the trip.

“I do have to consider there’s an entry fee. There’s also pageant dresses, make-up, wardrobe, travelling, accommodations,” she said.

But once she’s on that pageant stage, Bruyere’s goals are clear.

“I look forward to … being able to role model this opportunity that I have,” she said.

“Don’t let yourself play small. Don’t let yourself not shoot for big dreams or that you can’t do it. You’ll never do it unless you try. And really that’s what it came down to for me.”

Ocean Bruyere says she wants to be a role model and show people that anything is possible. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

The 27-year-old also wants to tackle unrealistic beauty standards.

“As someone who has children, I want to normalize my body type and bigger body types,” she explained. “That we’re not all a size two or what we would consider the beauty standards.”

Miss Indigenous Canada is a three-day pageant weekend that goes beyond the runway – there are workshops, guest speakers and activities. Organizers call it a gathering of “young Indigenous leaders of tomorrow.”

Bruyere is one of 26 young women taking part in the competition.

“All of this is new for me. In the process of all of this, I’m learning, too. I’m learning as I’m going and I’m trying my best. I’m hoping that I can just be a good role model and always come from the heart.”

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