At our Promote Her annual fundraiser in November, Symbia Barnaby (pictured on the right, with Minerva’s Lisa Tallio) took to the podium for what became the pinnacle of the evening. Her vulnerability, paired with the strength to share it, transformed a room full of listeners. We came to understand what Minerva’s Combining Our Strength™ Initiative is really up to, with her clear testament to the impact it’s had on her life.
We were fortunate to record her speech, to share it with you now:
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs. I was born Mi’kmaq, but adopted and raised Haida, in the city of Prince Rupert.
I am a nurse; I am an artist; I am an advocate for marginalized people. I have six children, who I’m now raising on my own – three of them with special needs, one of them in particular has autism.
I was asked to come and share with you how Combining Our Strength™ has made an impact on my life. So I’m going to give you a little timeline, and start about a year and a half ago, and then introduce the pieces that lead me to be here today.
A year and a half ago I was still with my ex, and we had gone and had some Chinese food, and I opened up a fortune cookie, and this is what it read: “your courage will help others and will soon make you a leader.”
I’m going to share some pieces of my life that I feel a bit vulnerable about sharing, but they have everything to do with why we’re here today.
About a year ago, through hardship that we were going through – dealing with the loss of a job, an injury, caring for six children – we ended up with family violence. My six children were removed from my care. They have since been returned, but it was the lowest moment in my life, the most painful.
We had reached out multiple times, saying we needed respite care, we needed advocacy for our child’s needs – in the school, in the health care system. And it fell on deaf ears for so long, to the point where my husband and I stopped fighting the system, and we began fighting each other.
My kids were returned to me about four and a half months later, and at that point I had this insight come to me. It was: transform this, for your children. Don’t let it stay just with them, take this experience and transform it for other people.
So, about two months ago, I had a friend tag me in a post on Facebook. Minerva had a post, talking about the Combining Our Strength™ leadership program. It was the very last day to apply, and my friend tagged me and said, “I think this might be appropriate for you”.
So I read it, and I quickly applied, and I received confirmation right away – yes, you’ve been accepted into the program, come and show up on this date.
I can’t tell you the impact — I can’t put it into words — what those eight days meant to me. And not just me, but to my children as well. I’d always had the want, and the will, to make change. But now I have the how. And that’s how Minerva was able to help me.
Minerva taught me about communication styles, different things that I’d often felt to be a barrier to successfully advocating for myself and my children.
So where I’m at now, is I took the skills that I had gained from the program, and I approached one of the Aboriginal Community Leadership places in our city, and said “We have to start filling this need — for programs and services for families who have children with special needs in our area.”
Where we live we have five other First Nations that filter into our community, so it’s not just Prince Rupert that we’re looking at serving, we’re now looking at serving the whole region.
I just want let you know how your donations, your generosity, has had a direct impact on me, on our community – and it’s grassroots projects like these, that are starting as a result of Combining Our Strength™, that have everything to do with reconciliation for Canada.
I want to say thank you. You have not only helped me, but you are helping raise up those six children, and our community, and the communities that are attached to us. And when I rise, we all rise.”
It takes such extraordinary strength to be vulnerable in this way, and we are grateful to Symbia for sharing her story with us. Today, on Giving Tuesday, please make a donation to Minerva, to ensure the Combining Our Strength™ Initiative continues in Prince Rupert, and Indigenous communities throughout BC. Because this is what happens when Indigenous women are given the tools they need: they lead us all by example.