Expert Interview: Lorelei Higgins
The Ottawa Dialogue’s Spring 2023 Newsletter features an interview with Ms. Lorelei Higgins, MBA. Lorelei Higgins is a Métis Canadian Cultural Mediator, Rotary Peace Fellow, Rotary Positive Peace Activator and an Indigenous Relations Strategist. She is also Mrs. Canada Globe 2023! Lorelei leads conflict transformation projects globally, with a focus on Indigenous human rights. In this interview, we talk about Lorelei’s work with the Ottawa Dialogue, as long as her longstanding career as a peacebuilder, Métis community leader, and public figure.
- You are a peace professional, a cultural mediator, an anti-racism change agent, and a Métis community leader. Much of your work seems to have blended your personal and professional lives. How do you see your lived experiences and professional work informing one another, and how has this strengthened your approach(es) to conflict resolution?
My roots and my values live in every fibre of my being. This means bringing all of me to what I do, in both my personal and my professional life! As a Métis person, born a middle child, I think I come by peacebuilding and mediation skills quite naturally. I have always been curious about what people had to say and I have been taught that it is better to listen more than to speak – I have been taught that is why Creator gave us two ears and just one mouth. At a young age, when conflict arose between my family and community members, I often took on the role of helping people hear each other. It was intriguing to me to find out at a later age that there were professional designations and titles for what I was doing! I believe strongly in dialogue and my experiences across the globe, both personally and professionally, have taught me so much. In a very applied sense, I am able to see what works to connect people which lies at the heart of finding paths through conflict. I believe in the transformative power of walking together through conflict.
- Much of the work that you do and have worked with us on has centred around community-building in a very genuine and personal way. Could you share your thoughts on the role of genuine and supportive community building(?) in promoting peace as a practitioner and a scholar?
We are community beings. We are deeply inter-related and our actions reverberate across generations. Many Indigenous worldviews teach about the importance of 7 Generations. I centre my community building around this practice. I also believe that communities have endless assets and unearthing the web of deep connections and opportunities is what ignites my passion for community work. When you ask people what success looks like for their community, it is amazing what they learn about themselves and what you learn. This way of being invites people to be part of determining success for themselves. As a practitioner and scholar, this is what I am interested in. I love the light of possibility that ignites in the eyes of people when we explore what people already have and what is possible. I love seeing what happens next.
- We (The Ottawa Dialogue and yourself) are working together on two research projects: one that looks at how Track Two scholarship and Indigenous ways of knowing can work together and inform conflict resolution practice, and another that looks at Indigenous women as land defenders against the climate crisis in Turtle Island. What overlaps do you see in these areas – gender, Indigenous Ways of Knowing, (intersectional) environmentalism, and conflict. What overlaps do you see between these areas and how do you see this work creating opportunities for additional research questions?
These projects are so incredible. What learnings with phenomenally inspiring people!
Many Indigenous Ways of Knowing invite us to a holistic worldview, one where we recognize the inter-connectedness between all of us. This includes the Two-legged, Four-legged, Winged, Finned, Rooted, and Flowing beings. We all have a role to play. Both of these projects highlight the critical importance of this.
Indigenous Ways of Knowing invite us to see beyond overlap and to see the deep interconnections between gender, environmentalism and conflict.
For me, continued research in this area includes support for Indigenous women and the knowledge that we have long possessed and the action that has been taking place quietly and loudly for generations. I would love to highlight globally where shifts are occurring in colonial systems – where holistic and women-led initiatives are making positive change.
Additionally, during our research it has come up over and over that we also need to be supporting our Indigenous youth who identify as male as well as those who may identify as Two-Spirited more. There is so much to learn about Indigenous Ways of Knowing and both of these projects offer deep wisdom and the opportunity for further collaboration and sharing. The opportunity to parallel Ways of Knowing is tremendous and it is exciting to think that this is just the beginning of us working together, likely.
- In what ways do you feel that peace practitioners have perhaps overlooked conflict and violence in settler colonial contexts (if they have)?
I think that conflict and violence have been defined in colonial ways as has conflict resolution. There are so many rich Indigenous teachings around conflict, violence and conflict resolution. Many of the teachings include the Original Teachings, which vary across Indigenous cultures. In Métis culture, we have 12 Core Values. In these teachings, often convey through storytelling how to address conflict and violence in a community-based holistic way.
Indigenous peoples hold knowledge and practices that are important to the intersectionality of gender, environmentalism, conflict and conflict resolution/transformation. From a young age, we are prepared for the leadership roles we will take on through our Original Teachings and experiential application of them. Colonial practices have interrupted these practices and altered the knowledge transmission and the leadership roles of women in particular. In many of our peace practices, women-led initiatives and knowledge is often overlooked and completely missing. By working together with intentionality, we can change the way we approach peace practices and what they are centred on.
- You are also Mrs. Canada! Much of your professional life is also taken up with engagements related to this title and you use your platform for promoting a lot of your peace work and anti-racism work. Could you share some of your thoughts on the role of pop culture and social media in promoting peace literacy?
Being Mrs. Canada Globe 2023 (and consecutively since 2020), is one of the greatest roles I have held! It is a gift to have this international platform to help create opportunities for positive social change. As an Indigenous, female peacebuilder, it is important to me that I am showing up in authentic ways and contribute to efforts to positively influence real things affecting me, my family, my local community and the communities I am part of around the world. Some say that I am the first person they have seen wear a Métis sash on an international pageant stage! This is a role and responsibility that I take seriously. It is important how I show up and walk in this world and my social media presence is part of that!
There is a significant role that pop culture and social media have in promoting peace literacy. Words have the ability to create worlds and images have the ability to shift realities. There is so much that can be learned through what we are exposed to every day. Utilizing pop culture and social media to promote peace literacy is an incredibly important venue to create conversations and contribute to global peacebuilding initiatives. It is often a gateway into the much larger peace literacy world. Steppingstones to peace literacy should be everywhere, especially in the places we don’t expect!
- Is there anything else that you would like to discuss that I have not yet asked?
Many people wonder how I manage it all being a mom of 2 kids, ages 9 and 11 and why do I do this work. The short answers are integration and passion. My kids are inextricably part of me and my peacebuilding work and I am so passionate about what they are doing and how they show up in this world! At a young age, they are taking on leadership roles including facilitating some of the cultural activities and public speaking that we do. My kids understand who they are, where they come from and the importance of truly showing up in community. Seeing the pride with which my kids share their Métis culture through speaking their language, wearing their sash, jigging and sharing their history, I know I have successfully helped to break the inter-generational cycle of shame and stigma in my family around being Métis. This is my why! This is one of the most important contributions I think I can make as a human being. I get to help raise my own kids and inspire other young leaders to be proud of who they are. I am seeing my own kids and other young leaders be so wildly inclusive in their leadership; they see the role they have in creating a shared path forward that includes all of us and are taking bold action to make this happen.
Lorelei Higgins is a Métis Canadian Cultural Mediator, Rotary Peace Fellow, Rotary Positive Peace Activator and an Indigenous Relations Strategist. She is also Mrs. Canada Globe 2023! Lorelei leads conflict transformation projects globally, with a focus on Indigenous human rights.