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Twenty-two-year-old Emma Morrison is the first Indigenous woman to hold the title of Miss World Canada.

As the striking, raven-haired Emma prepares to compete in the Miss World competition, she reflects on her small-town upbringing, her pageant experiences, and her ambitions as a role model for Canada’s Indigenous youth.

“Regardless of where you come from, or any limitations or doubts you may have, your dreams are always within reach!

Faces: Tell us about your early life as part of the Chapleau Cree First Nation in Ontario.

Emma: I was that kid who was outside with my friends all the time. Growing up, I lived in Chapleau, which is four hours north of Sudbury — the town is surrounded by forests! Most of my weekends were spent hunting, fishing, four-wheeling, sledding, and of course, cooking smores on the campfire. It’s such a beautiful memory to know that I was not afraid to get dirty and enjoy what was right in my backyard.

How old were you when you first started participating in pageants?

I started participating in pageants when I was 16 years old. I was really nervous because it seemed like something too far outside of my comfort zone. Still, I knew in my heart that it would be a really great experience! Pageants are not just glitz and glam. You need to advocate for a platform, fundraise for charities, have humanitarian projects, seek sponsors, and be an active member of your community. All of this inspired me because I wanted to be a positive example for younger people. Plus, I thought it would be cool to tell my kids one day that their mom had been Miss Chapleau 2017!

You went on to win Miss Teenage Canada, then, last year, Miss World Canada. What’s it like to garner those honours?

It was a shock when I won Miss Teenage Canada. I remember looking at my mom and thinking, “I cannot believe we did this. I won?” It was my first national pageant. There were 59 other teenagers from across Canada who competed. Then, five years later, I stood with 48 other delegates waiting for the Miss World Canada results. I felt like a nervous teenager all over again because we were in the same auditorium where I’d been crowned 5 years earlier. Just like being crowned Miss Teenage Canada, I looked at my mom in the audience during this full-circle moment and thought, “Wow, we did it!”

Next, you’re off to compete in the Miss World pageant. What are your expectations and what are you looking forward to the most about the event?

This is a once and a lifetime opportunity. One thing that excites me is that the Festival is 4-5 weeks long, full of activities. I am also looking forward to making life-long memories and forming 120 new friendships with ladies from all around the world. One specific component I am looking forward to is the “Dances of the World” category, where all delegates get to showcase a special dance from their country. I’m using this opportunity to dance in my fancy shawl regalia to express how beautiful the Indigenous Mushkegowuk Cree heritage is. I take great pride in my culture and it is an honor that I get to be the first Indigenous woman from Canada to step foot in my moccasins on the Miss World Stage in 71 years.

Talk about your Reconnecting with Ribbons initiative. How did the idea come to you and what impact has it had?

After the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves found at Kamloops Residential School, it lit a fire inside of me. It inspired me to reconnect with my culture, to honour those who are no longer with us, and to empower those I can. This is when I developed my Beauty with a Purpose Project: Reconnecting Through Ribbon Skirts. Ribbon skirts are a traditional piece of clothing worn by Indigenous women and two-spirit people, and are considered an expression of history, resilience, celebration, and connection. I developed this because Indigenous women are 12 times likelier than the national average to be physically or sexually abused by an adult before the age of 15 or become victims of homicide. The ribbon skirts make them feel empowered and inspire them to reclaim their strength in a country where we face high challenges.

Aside from distinguishing yourself in competitions, what are some of your hobbies or other interests?

I love Indigenous beadwork and sewing ribbon skirts in my craft room, along with dancing in powwows in my fancy shawl regalia. I also enjoy watching horror/thriller movies because I love to get scared! But what I love the most is budget travelling. I just finished a 14-day road trip in the USA where I visited 10 states. I am now booked for another 14-day trip to Columbia and Ecuador. I believe traveling helps one gain a better understanding of different peoples and ways of life.

No one is a pageant queen forever. What do you see for yourself in the long term?

“I did graduate from esthetics at Algonquin College and hairstyling from Versailles Academy in Ottawa. I loved these courses because they helped me further develop my passion for making others feel their best. I also spend most of my days traveling to different towns and cities around Canada as a motivational speaker. However, my blinders are on until I reach the Miss World Stage. Being a title holder is a massive responsibility, especially a Miss World title holder. The Miss World organization is looking for a charitable ambassador, someone who is not afraid to get their hands dirty and provide positive change in communities worldwide. So far, as Miss World Canada, I have completed 40 service projects ranging from school and community visits, keynote speaking, leading/assisting in ribbon skirt workshops, helping coordinate youth fashion shows, donating to charities, and more! I hope I can take my passion worldwide to share the message that anyone can achieve their dreams as long as they work hard and have an endless amount of ambition.

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