Aboriginal Jenna Talackova Speaks to Barbara Walters—and the World—on 20/20
For millennia life was fairly simple for the Lake Babine Nation’s members, who lived peaceably along the shores of Babine Lake and the river of the same name, living mainly on wild salmon they caught with highly technological weirs.
Over the ensuing two centuries, according to the aboriginal nation’s website, various indignities and injuries have included the banning of the potlatch ceremonies, the destruction of their fishing weirs—which nearly starved them one winter—and the taking of their land.
Flash forward 200 years and add to the list Donald Trump and his obsession with genitalia. Cleverly combining beauty queen Jenna Talackova’s first name with the beginning of her last, he came up with “Jennatal,” or genital.
“Jennatal—those are the first letters of her name,” he said on 20/20 on April 6, adding that it made him wonder if there were another motive behind Talackova's participation in Miss Universe Canada. It was his answer to re-qualified Miss Universe Canada entrant Jenna Talackova, a 23-year-old Babine Nation member who became a woman at age 19.
Gloria Allred, the prominent Los Angeles attorney who Talackova hired to fight her disqualification, was on hand to refute.
"With all due respect to Mr. Trump, he really needs to stop being focused on genitals, his or anyone else's,” said Allred. “This world does not revolve around his penis or anyone else's genitalia."
Talackova has gone from finalist in the Miss Universe Canada competition to international sensation as the story of her disqualification for not being a “natural born female” has gone viral. Devastated at being disqualified in late March, Talackova hired Allred, and they announced possible legal action on April 3. Trump, who owns the Miss Universe pageant, reluctantly rescinded the rule requiring that contestants be born female.
It’s a far cry from the initial rejection of Lake Babine’s now most famous member, the would-be contestant who used to have one.
As Allred put it, “Whether a person is a woman is not simply defined by her genitalia.”
Jenna Talackova, 23, always knew she was female, she told Barbara Walters on 20/20 on Friday night.
“I felt like I was in the wrong body,” she said of her early life, when she was named Walter.
Through her early teen years she looked and dressed like a girl and began hormone treatments. Her gender reassignment surgery took place when she was 19. Now she is a stunning 23-year-old lithe blonde.
Talackova’s mother appeared by her side on the 20/20 segment, which aired on April 6.
"I wanted a daughter,” she said on the show. “But when I had Jenna, the last child, I said, Well that's ok, I guess I have four sons.”
However she, the family and the community at large have supported Talackova through the years.
A cousin of Talackova’s, John Bertacco, is a band councilor in the Lake Babine Nation in Burns Lake and told the Vancouver Sun that the community knew about what was happening. Talackova’s family lives in east Vancouver, according to the Vancouver Sun.
The recent events have unfolded in stark contrast to the life followed by the Babine Nation peoples through history and into today.
“The fish weirs belonged to the clans and it was the responsibility of the chiefs to allocate individual sites,” the First Nation’s website says. “The chiefs did not practice ownership over the resources but a stewardship to take care of their members.”
Everything hinged on salmon, sockeye that the Babine people caught, ate and preserved “in vast quantities” by drying or smoking it. It was run by four matrilineal clans.
Today the Nation is the third-largest aboriginal group in British Columbia, numbering 2,310, many living in five remote communities. Other members live off-reserve in Vancouver and a couple of other towns. Valackova, the Vancouver Sun reported, regularly visits family and attends potlatch and other ceremonies in her family’s community. Babine Nation is one of the dozens taking a stand against Enbridge Inc.’s planned Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
The community at Burns Lake is still reeling from a mill explosion earlier this year that killed two people and injured 19 at the Babine Forest Products mill, a tragedy that Bertacco was on hand for, among dozens of others.
None of that came up in the 20/20 interview. But that persevering spirit was evident in her tenacity and Talackova's desire to help others to combat discrimination.
“If it’s helping anybody else, my story and my actions, then I feel great about it," she told Walters.