In her job as a substitute teacher, Kayleigh Spencer of Mistissini, Quebec, spends her time trying to get young people to see their potential. But this week, the young Cree woman is encouraging her own, as she competes with dozens of other Indigenous women in the Miss Indian World pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"They [young people] have special talents, they have something they are amazing at," said Spencer in an interview with CBC's Maamuitaau after being crowned Miss Mistissini.
"I want them to discover that, and the only way to do that is to keep going to school, and to try new things, so that is what I promote for the youth."
After winning Mistissini's local pageant in December, Spencer was crowned the inaugural Miss Eenou/Eeyou Nation in February. That opened up the opportunity to compete in the Miss Indian World pageant.
"They called my name. I was very happy that my great aunt crowned me, that's what I will remember the most," Spencer said.
"I was relieved and in awe. It was a wonderful moment."
'A person is beautiful when they love themselves'
Miss Indian World is a five-day competition that takes place as part of the Gathering of Nations, which began in 1983 and is billed as the biggest powwow in North America, attracting thousands of Indigenous people from across the continent.
Rather than emphasizing the outward appearance of its contestants, Miss Indian World is selected based on the contestants' knowledge of their people, culture and history.
Spencer is trilingual, speaking Cree, English, and French fluently. She studied French in Chibougamau, a town about 700 kilometres from Montreal and about an hour away from her home community.
"When I was younger, I was not that happy being sent to Chibougamau for education," she said. "I always asked my mother: 'why can't I go to Mistissini for school?'
"And she would respond, 'well, if you want to be good at speaking French, if you want to work in Quebec, you must speak French.'
"So then I thought, okay, I will become a teacher, and I will teach school children how to speak French," said Spencer.
When asked the question 'what is beauty?' at the Cree Nation pageant, Spencer answered: "A person is beautiful when they love themselves, because when you know yourself, you know what you're good at and you know when you need to push yourself. That self-love is the most important thing."
This year's Miss Indian World will be crowned at a special event Saturday at the Kiva Auditorium at the Albuquerque Convention Center. The winner will travel extensively throughout the world promoting cultural awareness.