Waskaganish’s Andrea Mcleod is the new Miss Eeyou/Eenou Nation

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Held every two years, the Miss Eeyou/Eenou Nation (MEEN) pageant was hosted by the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) on March 2 in Chisasibi, where Andrea Mcleod of Waskaganish was crowned the winner. Theresa Gunner of Mistissini was the first runner-up, Erin Gull of Ouje-Bougoumou the second and Mina Tapiatic of Chisasibi was the fourth participant.

“It feels really good but I am still overwhelmed by it all. I definitely was not expecting this,” said Mcleod. “It was such a great experience to be with the girls on stage and to participate and represent my community.”

According to the CWEIA, the purpose of the pageant is to empower young Cree women through cultural pride and knowledge with a grand prize of entry into the Miss Indian World pageant at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Mcleod, 19, is currently a part-time student finishing her high school credits so she can move on to studies in social work. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her father, Darin Mcleod, who is a social worker and the Human Resources Director for the Waskaganish branch of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services.

As Mcleod explained, entering a pageant is a community effort. In order to be eligible, the contestant has to be between 18-24 to be able to participate in Miss Indian World and has to be selected and prepared by the community. Having tried to back out several times, Mcleod said she was continually encouraged by the youth council several times to be Waskaganish’s entrant as there is only one participant per community. Finally, it was local Youth Chief Conrad Blueboy who convinced Mcleod to stand up and represent her community.

“I thought I was the wrong person to send to this, but he kept telling me I could do it because he felt that I could really inspire people. I thought it was great that he saw this in me when I didn’t,” confessed Mcleod.

Participants are judged on cultural and traditional knowledge, public speaking (this year’s topic was domestic violence) and on the traditional dress that they wear, which the community prepares for thm. As Mcleod explained, the community’s Cultural Department held sewing nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it was the women attendees who beaded each flower onto her dress made of hide.

Contestants are also asked how they interpret beauty through their culture which is key because the premise of the pageant is to empower young women in Eeyou Istchee as a means of strengthening the Cree Nation.

According to the CWEIA, “One of our main goals is to create a variety of spaces that contribute to embrace what we collectively uphold and value as Eeyou/Eenou women. In this case, the MEEN pageant is specifically aimed at the young women in our membership who are seeking experiences that will shape them into stronger, more outspoken leaders.”

The 2017 winner, Kayleigh Spencer, was on hand to fulfill her final duties of her two-year reign.

According to Spencer, Mcleod has an exciting and rewarding two years ahead of her, describing her term as “rich in teachings.” Mcleod will not only be a role model and spokesperson but someone who will be representing and presenting Eeyou Istchee to the Indigenous world in Albuquerque come April.

Spencer recalled her own experience of participating in the pageant. “Although it was tough to be on foreign land and competing with other amazing Aboriginal women, I couldn’t have done it without the support of the Cree Nation,” she said.

During the 2017 Eeyou Istchee pageant, Spencer said her platform was “our youth’s well-being and education.”

“Throughout the two years, I’ve been able to learn from and speak to neech uuschinijuuch by visiting schools and attending events, such as Inspire Hope and Youth Council conferences and a mental health symposium with Manuuhikuu. It has been a very rewarding experience – it has increased my self-confidence and my pride as a Cree woman,” said Spencer.

Going from being the girl who thought she didn’t have it in her to being the pageant winner, Mcleod can look forward to two exciting years. She will become a voice of the Cree Nation as much as she will hear the voices of the Cree Nation.


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