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In March of this year, Minerva was fortunate to add a new full-time team member: an extraordinary educator and lifelong student named Jacquelyn Nadrazsky.  At the six-month mark, Jacquelyn and I sat down to discuss her MBA, her life’s purpose, and the moment she knew she’d been ‘Minerva’d.’

Jacquelyn was born and raised in Bella Bella, the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation.  She graduated from high school there and knew that she wanted to continue into post secondary education right away, without delaying like so many of her peers.  At 17, she went to Malaspina University to attend First Nations Arts One – an introduction to Liberal Arts.  At that time, she also competed at the North American Indigenous Games in basketball, where she met her husband.  She transferred to UNBC Prince George for First Nations Studies, where she remained for three years, before becoming pregnant with their first daughter.  Feeling the call of home, she and her husband returned to Bella Bella, where she became a liaison worker at the community school. 

Bella Bella has been in the news quite a bit lately, for its incredible success on many levels – and the community school society is no exception.  “They have secured funding in a very organized way,” she says.  “From nursery school through grade 12, students are immersed in their traditional culture, giving everyone in the community an incredible connection to their lived history.”

Just before her second daughter was born, she was introduced to the idea of Midwifery.  The ability to birth children in Bella Bella was taken away more than 25 years ago, and having to travel so far from home to give birth is an arduous and unfortunate reality for the women of her community.  She hoped that by becoming a midwife, she could contribute something truly life-altering. 

Jacquelyn and her family returned to Vancouver, where she studied midwifery at UBC for two and a half years.  She was twenty-three years old, immersed in the conventional life of a student, while raising two daughters and trying to remain connected to her community.  One of her greatest commitments became the traditional harvesting of food.  Filling her freezer with fish is, to this day, one of the aspects of her life she values the most.  “At that time,” she says, “I was learning about what I couldn’t live without.”

After delivering eleven babies in one week, and nearly missing her own daughter’s third birthday, she realized that being a midwife came at too great a cost.  She turned to the Spirit Lodge Society and became a resource worker for women and low income families.  “It was a moment of awakening,” she says, “to be involved in a bigger picture in that way.”  She realized how she wanted to be of service: by being part of a movement towards a better place for Indigenous people.

She worked with the Ministry of Justice, and the Vancouver School Board, on projects that lasted for 2-3 years, until, repeatedly, the funding was cut.  That was when she saw an online advertisement for the MBA program at the University of Northern BC.  Without a degree, she didn’t expect to be let in, but the process of assembling her decade-long education history and work portfolio increased her confidence.  She realized the value of her own life experience.

Of course, she was accepted, and will have completed her degree in May of 2017.  She plans to contribute to economic sustainability in Bella Bella by encouraging all kinds of diverse activity, namely small business ownership.  She will continue to advance cross-cultural awareness within the business community, and collaborate on environmental leadership with various First Nations, as the stewards of the land.

In the meantime, however, she is still figuring out her strengths, which is a remarkable segue to her work here at Minerva.  When the job posting was shared on facebook, she was filled with such excitement, she applied that same day.  ‘It just made me feel curious,” she says, “this movement towards equality and opportunity that is inclusive of Indigenous women.”

Her work as Program Coordinator for Combining Our Strength™ now includes a new youth initiative called Indigenous Roots: Girls Matter, which, she says, “leaves me feeling fulfilled in a way I hadn’t yet experienced.” She began her new role in March, and by May, was traveling to Kamloops to participate in women’s leadership programming she had coordinated.  When Jacquelyn arrived in the room, to join the participants, program director Lisa Tallio said proudly, “these women already know you and they haven’t even met you.”

Jacquelyn’s approach has always been to pick up the phone instead of sending an email.  She knows that the more personal the connection, the more trust will be established – a cornerstone not only of Combining Our Strength™, but Indigenous culture in general.  She was surprised by what she acquired personally from the program’s curriculum – such as interview skills and negotiating.  “Tools missing from my MBA program,” she says, “which are so necessary to increasing the representation of Indigenous leaders, moving forward.”

She ended by telling me a story about one of the students in Kamloops.  One woman in particular was quiet to the point of shaking with anxiety whenever she was called upon to speak.  That is, until the last day, when it was her turn to receive her certificate of completion.  She was the first and only women to speak during that ceremony, and she wept with strength and confidence.  She expressed such gratitude to the program, for reuniting her and her sister, that the room was in tears alongside her. “It was very powerful to see how one opportunity can move and inspire people in that way.  It was the moment I knew I was Minerva’d.”

We’re very glad she was.

— Samantha Jo Simmonds

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