Emma Morrison is the first Indigenous woman to win Miss World Canada
A few years ago, Emma Morrison was just like any other 16-year-old from a small town. A member of Ontario’s Chapleau Cree First Nation, she spent most of her time hunting, fishing, and exercising—until she joined the world of beauty pageantry.
Morrison, now 22, was crowned Miss World Canada on Sunday night, making her the first Indigenous woman to win the national title. Next year she will continue to the international Miss World competition in Vietnam.
“It wasn’t about being the first Indigenous woman to hold this title,” Morrison told CBC News. “Of course that’s a great honor…but I wanted to open that door for other indigenous peoples to walk through.”
Morrison’s first pageant was in the Miss North Ontario contest where she was only one of three Indigenous contestants out of 39 in all.
But the state of Indigenous representation in the Canadian beauty pageant has since improved, she said, noting that this year’s Miss North Ontario, Grace Webb, is a young woman from Dokis First Nation who was one of 10 Indigenous contestants in the event of 2022.
“I’m really doing it for them, Indigenous youth, Indigenous little girls. Because I was once in their position,” Morrison said. She struggles to show her six younger foster siblings that they can reach their full potential.
“It doesn’t have to be pomp and circumstance, but it could be applying to college or stepping outside your comfort zone, and it’s just important to be that positive example that your dreams are within reach, too.”
Accompanied by Ms. Universe 2015, a ‘big sister’
Morrison may be Canada’s first native Miss World, but she’s not the first to climb to the top of the beauty pageant world.
After winning Miss Teenage Canada in 2017, Morrison received a surprise friend request on social media from Ashley Callingbull-Rabbit, the first Canadian and Indigenous woman to win Mrs. Universe won in 2015.
Morrison likened her to “a big sister,” saying Callingbull-Rabbit has become a mentor and guide as she advances in her pageant career.
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“She also comes from a reserve and she is an example of how passion and drive can achieve anything, so it was fantastic that she took me under her wing,” said Morrison.
Callingbull-Rabbit, in addition to Morrison, coaches a handful of other Indigenous beauty pageant contestants in Canada and the United States. She says she wished she had someone to show her the ropes when she first started.
“You can push someone in the right direction and give them all the tools, but it’s really up to them to make that dream come true. [Emma] has,” Callingbull-Rabbit told CBC News.
“Being a rep — it’s not just being a face, walking around and waving and saying look who I am,” she added. “For me it’s about, what are you going to do [do] how will you use your voice with this platform and what kind of positive change will you create?”
Morrison, for her part, was tasked with developing a humanitarian project for Miss World Canada’s premier competitive event, Beauty With a Purpose.
Her winning effort, called Reconnecting with Ribbon Skirts, began after the preliminary discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops residential school site in 2021, which inspired her to reconnect with her culture.
“So far I’ve made 23 ribbon skirts for Indigenous women to feel pretty powerful, and this is what I want to do,” she said. “I want to give Indigenous women a physical link to our culture, to remind them to stand strong and be proud of their cultural identity.”
She hopes to take the initiative to the international stage when she competes in Miss World next year. As an Indigenous woman, she has no hesitation in representing Canada on the global stage, but she recognizes the responsibility that comes with her title, she said.
“I come from such a strong community of people. I come from Chapleau Cree First Nation in the Treaty Nine Mushkegowuk area. And everyone in my community, my territory, has been so incredibly supportive of me,” she said.
“It makes it easier to know I have this support, this backbone to help me move forward with this title.”