Carrissa Lowhorn always had a passion for helping others in need. From the Siksika Nation, her humanitarian instincts have led her towards a path in pageantry. To Carrissa, pageants aren’t about who is the most beautiful or wealthiest, but about standing up and speaking for her people.
In 2011, Carrissa was crowned Miss Southern Alberta and went on to compete nationally. Based on her performance and educational background, Carrissa went on to winning a national title as Miss Canadian Scholarship Ambassador, accompanied by a scholarship. Carrissa carried this title for a year, which gave her the opportunity to enhance her volunteer efforts. She also spoke to First Nations youth on the importance of education; an issue Carrissa is strongly passionate about. As a young girl Carrissa faced adversity within the education system. “I was told that I was a special student with ‘basic’ potential, and currently I am proving them wrong,” Carrissa adds.
This past July 2013 Carrissa was selected nationally to represent Canada on an international level in the Miss Tourism Planet pageant in Athens Greece, where she won the Miss Cosmopolitan award. The Miss Cosmopolitan award is awarded to a person who is most familiar with and at ease with many different cultures. However, just before her journey to Greece, Calgary and surrounding areas were affected by a major flood. Over two hundred homes in Carrissa’s community of the Siksika Nation were devastated by the flood, including her family’s home. Carrissa managed to help as much as she could a few days before she left.
In October 2013, Carrissa was selected to represent the USA in the 2013 Miss Globe World Finals, in the Republic of Albania. Carrissa went on to win the Miss Cosmopolitan award for the second time in one year. Although Carrissa had been juggling education, working and volunteering together, all of her hard work finally paid off. Carrissa graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in International Indigenous Studies this past November 2013.
In January 2014, Carrissa will travel to Miami, Florida to pass on her title, Miss USA, and help select the next Miss USA to compete internationally in Albania for the 2014 Miss Globe World Finals.
Native Max: Have you always wanted to participate in pageants when you were younger?
Carrissa Lowhorn: When I was younger I never really thought of pageants until the Miss Congeniality movie. I now have to laugh to myself about that one because pageants are not all what they are perceived to be. In my younger years I was a girly girl mixed with tom boy qualities. I use to play ice hockey regularly growing up.
You traveled to Greece and Albania earlier this year, what was your experience like in Europe?
When I competed in Greece this past June, I learned that Greece was devastated by an economic crisis. While in Greece, I will never forget the time I was sitting at a table at an outdoor restaurant, and a little girl came up to me playing a small guitar, wanting money. The owner of the restaurant chased her away, but before she left I secretly handed her some change. The little girl’s face lit up as she ran away. It was heartbreaking to see because she somewhat resembled my little sister. It made me happy and sad at the same time, but I felt good because I made her smile.
As for visiting Albania, I learned that it is a newly developing democratic country. Albania was once under communist control as well as war struck. Wherever you go in Albania you see homes under major construction and most of the buildings are half finished. Seeing a country in a developing state really made me appreciate and realize how lucky I am to live where I live.
My overall experience of visiting Europe had a humbling affect over me. I will always remember how Europe made me feel; I felt like I was in a different time in another world.
I thank the creator every day for all his blessings and showing me all these beautiful places.
Do you give back to your community? Why do you feel it’s important to do so?
I have volunteered for various events within my community and continue to do so. My community has always supported me in all my endeavors. Volunteering and inspiring others is my way of giving back to my community.
What do you hope to achieve with your titles?
I want to inspire other First Nations youth and show them that anything is obtainable through hard work. With the titles I won I’ve been given the opportunity to enhance my volunteer efforts and speak on issues that are important to me.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your journey of participating in pageants and earning your titles?
With all the volunteer work I’ve done through pageants, I learned the true importance of helping others in need. Helping others is my tribute to remembering and appreciating the people who helped me along my journey. I believe that without persistence and the help of others I would not be where I am today. We are all connected.
What is the best part of being in pageants?
The best part of pageants is that they have helped me with my interpersonal development skills within my everyday life. I have gained confidence in how I present myself and overcoming the fear of being present and speaking in front people. Pageants also gave me the opportunity to showcase my culture and who I am as a First Nations woman to people from all over the world.
And the worst part?
The worst parts of pageants are the endless hours of walking in heels and blisters, late nights and early mornings.
How did you balance your personal life and education with the commitments your titles required of you?
Without my spirituality I would not be where or who I am today. I strongly believe that the creator has helped me with everything I do. I try my best to eat healthy and keep physically fit. I also keep myself grounded by surrounding myself with people who love and support me. I believe that balancing and grounding ourselves can help to make life less crazy, because life is already crazy as it is.
This story was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Native Max Magazine.