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Aboriginal youth Miss Universe Canada finalist

Thursday June 12, 2014
Stephanie Wesley/Wawatay News

Melinda Henderson and her Miss Universe Canada finalist medal. Henderson hopes to show Canada what she is made of in Toronto at Miss Universe Canada 2015.

Sagkeeng First Nation member and Thunder Bay resident Melinda Henderson was selected as one of four Miss Universe Canada Finalists during the Miss North Ontario 2014 (MNO) pageant held in Sudbury in early May.

“I was the very first name they called to be selected for Miss Universe Canada,” Henderson said. “They called me and I was just shocked.”

It was Henderson’s second time competing in MNO, and being selected as a Miss Universe Canada finalist was one of three goals she had set out for herself this time.



“My goals were to win a fast track award, to make top 15, and to be selected for Miss Universe Canada,” Henderson said. 



Even though she didn’t reach all of her goals, Henderson is still proud of her accomplishments at this year’s MNO pageant.

“I felt like I broke through barriers this time,” Henderson said. “Barriers that have been holding me back. There was a portion of the workshops where we just let go of things that were bothering us.”



There were 44 girls in this year’s pageant.

Henderson said she was aware of what to expect this time.

“I knew what to expect this time around, that’s what made it fun for me,” Henderson said. “I improved a lot with self-confidence, and I didn’t care so much if I won or lost because it’s about your personal best.”


Henderson said that she was no longer comparing herself to other girls in the pageant this time, which was something she had done during her previous experience in the pageant.

“You can’t compare yourself to other people because that’s what’s going to tear you down and ruin your confidence. We are all different and unique,” Henderson said.

She said that the pageant included self-esteem, self-acceptance, public speaking, modeling, and personal safety workshops.

For the talent portion, Henderson performed the song “Good Morning Baltimore” from the musical Hairspray.


“It was my first debut where I showed my full vocal range,” she said.



Henderson explained she received many compliments after her performance, and that it helped her with her confidence in singing higher range and vocally-challenging songs on stage.

While Henderson enjoyed her time at MNO, there were a couple of incidents that almost ruined her time in Sudbury.



“Someone said something that wasn’t nice about me when I was down there but I think I handled it well,” Henderson said. “I wasn’t offended, I didn’t really care what they said about me. I wasn’t going to say anything originally but I thought about other girls who could have been offended. Had one of them heard it, it could have ruined their whole pageant experience.”



Henderson told a trusted pageant official and asked her to speak with the person who had said the rude comment about her.



“I asked them if they could tell her not to say those things because she could have really ruined someone’s day,” Henderson said. “It wasn’t what Miss North Ontario was about.”



Henderson was able to move on from the incident, but felt there was another aspect to this year’s MNO pageant that affected her negatively.



“It would be really nice if Aboriginal girls, when they meet each other in this world, if they were able to come together and unite,” Henderson said. “There was someone there who didn’t want anything to do with me. I mean, we are supposed to be role models for younger girls and I don’t want to send that message out there that you have to be so competitive that you won’t even talk to your own kind. It really upset me.”



Henderson found her own role models in the pageant world in other Aboriginals like Ashley Callingbull and Carissa Lowhorn.



Callingbull was the 2nd runner-up in Miss Universe Canada in 2010 and also stars on the APTN TV series Blackstone. Lowhorn was a contestant in this year’s Miss Universe Canada.



“I hope to influence other girls the way those two girls influenced me in pageants,” Henderson said of Callingbull and Lowhorn. “I want other girls to see that they can be successful in things.”



Henderson has lived in two reserves, one in Alberta, and more recently in North Spirit Lake, and has experienced first-hand what it feels like to have limited resources available.



“The reserves I’ve been at, there aren’t very many opportunities. I don’t want that to ever hold anyone back,” she said. “I went through a lot of stuff because I am Native. But we’re beautiful and we’re smart and we’re talented.”



Henderson hopes to show Canada what she is made of in Toronto at Miss Universe Canada 2015.

“It meant the world to me to be a finalist, I’ll probably be happy about that for the rest of my life,” Henderson said.



Henderson is performing next at the Aboriginal Day Gala in Thunder Bay.



The winner of Miss Universe Canada regularly attends, and is featured as a VIP guest at, premier entertainment and sporting events throughout Canada.



The winner of Miss Universe Canada is also sent to compete in Miss Universe. There are around 80 to 100 candidates from other countries who are sent to compete in Miss Universe.


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