Nicole Cardinal bw edited web

Nicole’s life prior to pursuing an education was a struggle. She was overcoming addiction, became a single mother at the age of 30, and was upgrading her skills at Vancouver Community College (VCC) in order to secure a job. “I didn’t have a stable foundation,” she remembers…

That’s when Nicole’s life was touched by Minerva. During her time at VCC, she was offered an entrance scholarship to Langara College through Minerva’s Combining Our Strength™ initiative. Nicole recalls that it was her baby that inspired her to take up Minerva’s financial offer to return to school. “I had to really look at my life and say, Okay, it’s not just about me. It’s about another little human being. I decided it was time to go back to school. So that’s what I did.”

The Minerva Foundation’s Combining Our Strength™ initiative is a partnership between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women that provides opportunities for women from Aboriginal communities throughout BC to develop their personal and professional leadership potential – no matter where they are on their journey. The Combining Our Strength™ initiative supports these women with education awards, employment workshops, leadership development and mentorship.

Heather Option 1 webA key area of interest for Teck is to make a positive contribution to Aboriginal communities in the areas where they operate. So when Teck learned of the work Minerva does with women in Aboriginal communities in BC, a partnership naturally developed. “Building capacity among Aboriginal women is very important because we know that strong women contribute to strong communities,” says Heather Lawrence, Manager of Indigenous Affairs at Teck. “That’s why we’re proud to support Minerva’s Combining Our Strength™ initiative, which promotes leadership development, education and economic security for Aboriginal women.”

Soon after receiving a Minerva education award, Nicole also participated in a Combining Our Strength™ leadership program, which is where she really dug deep. It is in the leadership programs where women truly identify their values, their goals, their strengths, and how they want to contribute to their communities. Nicole did just that. “I learned about my strengths, my best career choices and I learned to let go of my fears to pursue my dreams,” she remembers. “I began making jewelry, became a traditional Jingle dancer and became more involved within Langara College.” Nicole took part in creating programs for Aboriginal students that helped to ease the transition to college for younger students. These programs are still in use today.

A valuable aspect of the Combining Our Strength™ initiative is its ability to inspire role models who share their empowerment and skills with their communities. In Nicole’s case, she not only empowered her fellow students, but also her family. She inspired her husband to pursue his dreams, and is also a voice for her two daughters. “If I don’t fight for them, who’s going to?” she asks. “Coming from a small reserve and growing up in such an awful time… I was never proud of who I was. I was never proud to be a First Nations woman, or even just First Nations. I was told I was Italian to protect myself.” Now, as an empowered woman, she holds her head high and proudly teaches her daughters about their Dakleh heritage.

Nicole Cardinal_bw2 edited webAfter taking part in the Combining Our Strength™ leadership program, Nicole was recognized with another Minerva award for her excellence in personal growth and for making a difference within her community through leadership and mentorship.

In other words, she accomplished what the program sets out to inspire in its participants. And she’s still going. This September, along with her husband, Nicole started her law degree at UBC.

She reflects on her journey: “From being a single mom to where I’m at now having my Associate of Arts – clean and sober – I’m a healthy person, and it’s because I got to go to school. I didn’t think I had a chance. I was in my 30s. I gave up on my dreams, but this little baby changed my life and now she has a sister and an amazing dad. So the funding goes a long way. It wasn’t just about my education – it changed my whole life.”

To learn more about our partnership with Teck, and the impact Combining Our Strength™ has had on Nicole’s life, please watch our video here.

Learn more about Teck’s approach to community and sustainability at

The Combining Our Strength™ initiative is now accepting Expressions of Interest for its upcoming Career & Education Exploration Program and Community Leadership Program in Kamloops and Prince Rupert. 

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