This article is part of a series showcasing the stories of graduates of the IEP Ambassador Programme, an online course providing the knowledge and tools to foster peace.
Name: Lorelei Higgins
City: Calgary, Canada
Profession: Community Lead, Anti-Racism Program Team, City of Calgary
Q: Why did you undertake the IEP Ambassadors Programme?
I heard about the program while I was studying as a Rotary Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand in 2019. I was looking for ways to continue to grow my peacebuilding community and further my peacebuilding work in actionable and concrete ways. Joining this community has been tremendous! I am connected to even more peacebuilders around the world. The tools, frameworks, reports and briefings have all increased my knowledge, my skill-set and my ability to communicate about peace work globally.
Q: Do you have previous experience in the peace and conflict field?
My formal introduction to the field of peace and conflict was when I was as a Rotary Exchange Student to South Africa in 1998-1999, as the country emerged from apartheid. I had the chance to work for the first time in an international setting with incredibly dedicated and inspirational people on a variety of projects that were geared towards creating a more cohesive society. It left a massive impression on me and ultimately guided me to a career in peacebuilding.
After I finished my degree in Political Science in 2003, I had the chance to intern with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Ghost River Rediscovery in Bolivia. The project focused on leadership, Indigenous human rights and cultural rediscovery. This project was instrumental in teaching me about the complexities of conflict and the power of peacebuilding through cultural connections. I spent the next five years working in the international development field and had the opportunity to work with many communities across Asia, Europe, Central and South America, Africa, learning about local peacebuilding and conflict transformation approaches.
I currently work locally in government and have been co-creating an indigenous relations office, with a focus on peacebuilding and conflict resolution at the centre of the governance model. I also work in a consulting capacity with Mediators Beyond Borders and work with communities to engage in peace and conflict transformation conversations.
Q: Recently you won Mrs. Canada Globe 2020 competition, which is a pageant for Ms./Mrs., women who are married, separated, divorced or widowed, and it also raises money for a charity addressing women’s empowerment – can you tell us what it means for you to win?
It is an honour to win the title of Mrs. Canada Globe 2020! This is an unparalleled opportunity to represent Canada on the global stage and to share in meaningful dialogues and powerful celebrations about what it means to be a woman in today’s world.
This pageant is about being a Ms./Mrs. For me, being a Ms./Mrs. is about stepping fully into positions of leadership, without sacrificing aspects of life that are sacred to me. I get to celebrate and share what it means to show up as a woman who is many things, including a mother, a partner, a leader and a peacebuilder.
For me, this pageant is an important forum to help grow the conversation about the significant role of women as leaders, especially as leaders in peacebuilding. I hope that through this platform, I can uphold other women in their journey to finding their voices and the gifts they have to share, inspiring them to shine boldly and unapologetically.
Q: How did you incorporate Positive Peace into the Mrs. Globe 2020 competition?
From the launch of my journey as Mrs. Southwest Canada to winning the title of Mrs. Canada Globe 2020, positive peacebuilding, and the role of women in peacebuilding have been at the centre of my efforts. My pageant family has lovingly quipped me the #positivepeacequeen and #peacequeen as they have heard me talk endlessly about what it takes to actually create world peace. The sometimes jestful link between pageants and world peace has led to powerful conversation about the Pillars of Positive Peace and everyday peacebuilding in this incredible community.
Q: What do you hope to do with your new found platform as the winner of the competition?
I hope this crowning will bring an increased opportunity to highlight the voices of women globally who work every single day to create more peaceful communities, often without recognition or realisation of the critical role they play. I hope to elevate these voices more and I hope that one day, women leadership in peace processes is the norm.
While there has been some progress in women’s participation in peace processes, globally, it is estimated that about seven out of every ten peace processes still do not include women mediators or women signatories—indicating that few women are participating in leadership roles as negotiators, guarantors, or witnesses. It is time to boldly create this change!
I also hope this will increase the discourse globally about Positive Peace and the realisation that peacebuilding is not something intangible and too far outside of us to be achieved. Peacebuilding is what we do every single day.
Irene Santiago, a renowned female peacebuilder, who I am privileged to learn from, says that peacebuilding is about “increasing connectors and decreasing dividers.” I hope to share this powerful message with as many people as possible. It is the everyday actions of increasing connectors and decreasing dividers within community that create positive peace. I hope to move more people to action if they have felt stuck in inaction.
I will also compete in the Mrs. Globe 2021 competition as a representative of Canada.
Q: What does the win mean for you as a Métis woman from Canada?
This venture is historic in many ways. I often think of my nouhkom (grandmother) in my peacebuilding work and the struggles she faced as a Métis woman in Canada. She only imagined a time when she could speak her language, wear her cultural regalia and participate in ceremony without fear of reprimand. In everything I do, I hope I honour our Indigenous history and I hope she is proud of me. I know she certainly never imagined wearing her Métis sash with a crown. This is for you, nouhkom, along with all of those who came before me and the generations yet to come.
I hope that this journey inspires other women, especially Indigenous women, to realise that we are not a story of how things used to be or that we are bound by what has happened to us. We can be anything and do anything. But, it is important that we carry with us the story of where we come from. As one of my mentors, Dr. Michael Lickers, says often, “How do you know where you are going, if you don’t where you are from?” One of the most important journeys you will ever take is that of cultural discovery and re-discovery. Everybody comes from somewhere. Learn about your roots. Allow them to ground you and guide your future direction.
Lorelei completed the IEP Ambassador Program in 2019.
You can find out more about Lorelei’s peacebuilding journey on her blog. Photo credit: Thunder Boy Photography Inc
IEP’s Ambassador program is now taking expressions of interest. Find out more and apply here.