“I love to experience new things, try everything,” explained Sierra Chi?ela William, during a break from her pageant duties in Toronto.
Raised in the remote community of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, located 180 kilometres west of Williams Lake, the nineteen-year-old is a long ways from home in Toronto to compete for the title of Miss Canada Globe Petite.
Only in her first day of competition, William said she is already learning a ton.
“I’m getting more out of my comfort zone doing this, which is honestly great,” she said, of the experience so far. This is her very first ever pageant. The competition will include interviews, a gala night, a tea party and talent show, and other events, including modeling.
She plans to use the modeling aspects to highlight some Indigenous styles, including those from her own business, called Chi?ela Designs, making Indigenous clothing, including ribbon skirts and regalia.
“I can honestly do anything with it, which I really love.”
William has been operating her own sewing business for nearly two years and was inspired to start the project thanks to her grandmother Eileen William, who had made her a ribbon skirt, jingle skirt and moccasins. Eileen taught Sierra to sew.
“I look up to her,” said the young seamstress, who is in her third year of a social work degree as well.
Her reason for entering the competition is to help bring attention to the stories of residential and day school survivors.
Contestants choose an organization or charity to advocate for during the competition, and William will be promoting the Orange Shirt Day Society.
“I’m the first generation not to go to residential school,” said Sierra, whose grandmother, father and uncle are all residential school survivors. “I want them to be heard.”
While only about half of the contestants had arrived at this early stage in the competition, due to weather travel delays, she said they are expecting about 34 contestants in total for all of the categories.
In Sierra’s Petite category, contestants have to be five foot and five inches tall or under, and she is five feet, five inches.
While some may be critical of pageants with their focus on appearance, Sierra has been only hearing positive things from friends and family.
“I’ve been getting nothing but love and support.”
Sierra is the daughter of Shannon Stump and Roger William, who was the chief of Xeni Gwet’in for many years and helped lead the Tsilhqot’in Title and Rights case to the Supreme Court.
He is proud to see his daughter taking on this challenge.
“She’s a bright young lady,” he said of his daughter, noting she grew up with three older brothers, which probably contributed to her developing a strong voice.
“Since she was a little girl she always challenged me,” he said with a laugh.
Sierra Chi?ela William is the first ever woman from the Tsilhqot’in Nation to enter the Miss Canada Globe Petite Pageant.
“I think that would be amazing if I were to win,” she said.
At press time, William reported she had so far been awarded the regional title of Miss Petite of Southern British Columbia.