As a Métis Canadian, Lorelei Higgins comes by her peacebuilding roots naturally. Lorelei’s Métis heritage can be traced from the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba where her great-grandfather came across to Canada from Kent, England, and met her great-grandmother – a Cree and Ojibwe community leader. In this beautiful coming together of different worlds, Lorelei says that peacebuilding is literally in her DNA. Lorelei has often found herself weaving and mediating between these different worldviews, finding the beauty at the points where the worlds come together – that of her Indigenous ancestry and her European heritage. It is not always easy to be Indigenous, especially as a Métis person. But, as Lorelei has deepened her own cultural exploration over the years, she has learned to look at this duality of identity as a gift. She no longer sees herself as between worlds. Rather, she embraces the beauty of both worlds, inspired by Terry St. Amant’s words: “We are not ‘half’ of anything, but doubled.”
Indigenous Human Rights
Lorelei’s career has thus naturally taken a path towards leading community-based peace and conflict transformation projects, with a focus on Indigenous human rights. Lorelei’s work has taken her across the globe; she has been based in Asia, South America, Europe, Africa, and North America working on various projects.
A pivotal moment in Lorelei’s life occurred when she was 17. She went on a youth exchange with Rotary to South Africa in 1998-1999. It was a historical time as South Africa reimagined its future post-apartheid. Lorelei recalls a moment when she realized that quite often her schoolmates still sat separately racially. She made a point of sitting in the middle of the classroom, feeling the emergence of the nation-wide change underway. This was quite impactful for her to witness and inspired Lorelei to pursue a career in international development and peacebuilding.
When Lorelei returned to Canada in 1999, she went on to study political science, with a certification in globalization and governance. After her degree, Lorelei was selected through an internship program with the Canadian government to work on an Indigenous leadership, peacebuilding and human rights program in Bolivia. Following this, Lorelei took on various leadership roles with Ghost River Rediscovery, eventually leading the organization’s international cultural rediscovery programs. Lorelei continues to work on developing strong cultural competencies with all the teams that she leads as she believes that with strong cultural connections, peacebuilding comes innately. Lorelei has gone on to complement her skillset with an MBA, specializing in leadership.
For Lorelei, meaningful engagement is everything. If people participate in defining what success looks like at the outset, success is inevitable. Lorelei explains that in her experience, those who define success typically wholly invest in achieving it. Lorelei has been working in municipal government over the last decade and the opportunity to undertake meaningful engagement within her own community has been tremendous for her. One of the first projects that Lorelei lead locally was the development of an Addictions Strategy.
Lorelei found the project was particularly successful because she could help fill the role of an unlikely partner; she was not embedded in the addictions sector and could bring the stakeholders together around common purposes. Most recently, Lorelei has been working on the development of a Calgary Indigenous Relations Office. At the core of its foundation is a peace-centric approach, with a focus on how the government can be “a good relative, reflecting the interconnected nature of all things. Good, engaged government is an important aspect of creating a strong, connected community web,” she explained.
Throughout the community engagement, a parallel process has taken place, utilizing Indigenous practices (like ceremony) and ways of knowing (like storytelling) along with the use of software to code data and confirm emerging themes. “The whole premise of being a good relative is about establishing and nurturing good relationships. That is the point of reconciliation. For Indigenous peoples, the government has not always been a safe place. My passion is to create spaces in government where people see themselves as part of the system, especially Indigenous peoples.”
Rotary Peace Fellow and Beyond
In 2019, Lorelei was selected as a Rotary Peace Fellow and she attended the program at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. In her current role as an Indigenous relations strategist with the City of Calgary, Lorelei has been able to apply all that she has learned as a Rotary Peace Fellow in a very immediate way. The Rotary Peace Fellowship has provided her with practical tools and a global network to support her as she works to implement the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada Calls to Action locally.
Lorelei has also recently been selected as part of the inaugural class of Rotary Positive Peace Activators. The Rotary Positive Peace Activator program is a collaboration between Rotary International and the Institute for Economics and Peace. Over the next two years, 150 Rotary Positive Peace Activators from six regions across the globe will be trained to support Rotary and Rotary-affiliated Positive Peacebuilding activities. Find her (and two other MBBI members!) in the database of Activators.
Lorelei strongly believes in “the importance of being boldly inclusive when it comes to conflict transformation. Boldly inclusive is important because, while it is amazing to make space for people, being bold requires that you move out of the way and let the people that need to lead the transformation.”
In her spare time, Lorelei facilitates asset-based community development sessions utilizing an Indigenous appreciative inquiry lens and is an active member of the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Program alumni network. Lorelei loves learning experientially (especially about cultures and languages) and she is often found adventuring around the world with her two young children.
Article by Kylea Shropshire, MBBI Writer