November 30, 2021

The TAP Spotlight with Michelle Bryant-Gravelle (Bilhamnelx)

A big part of our dream for TAP comes from a desire to encourage, inspire, and celebrate people and organizations who are tapping into their potential. We decided to create the TAP SPOTLIGHT, a monthly focus on individuals or companies that are using their gifts, talents, and resources to make a difference.

Michelle, the spotlight's on you!

"My Tsimshian name is Bilhamnelx (pearl on the fin of the killer whale), my English name is Michelle Bryant-Gravelle. I am a wife, mother of two beautiful daughters, and proud grandmother to my grandson. I wouldn't characterize my life as easy, but I will say that I am blessed. Blessed because I have a great family and good support systems and blessed because I choose to find the gratitude in every situation, the good, the bad and the ugly.

As a child I was sexually abused, which resulted in internalized shame that resulted in bad decisions, poor choices, and bad relationships because I could not see my self-worth. Looking back on what I have been through in my life I can see how my path could have been completely different than it is today. For this I thank my grandparents for the unconditional love they gave me, and the respect and courage they instilled in me to overcome all obstacles put before me.

When I was in university, I became pregnant at 21 and quickly had to make major decisions. I knew I had to support the baby I was carrying and the only way I knew how to do that was by completing my education so I could get a good job to give my baby a good life. Hanna was 5 months old when I entered the education program at Malaspina University-College, now Vancouver Island University, and I successfully completed my Bachelor of Arts and my Bachelor of Education through the concurrent degree program. At times that meant taking eight courses per semester, sleepless nights, and very little time and money. But I had my eye on the prize, a teaching job that could support my family. I worked hard, completed my degrees, and entered the field of teaching in 2001.

Because of my desire for continuous learning, I accepted an opportunity to be part of the local teacher’s union, and eventually the provincial teacher’s union serving in many capacities over the years. This opportunity and the leadership experience gained through my work with the union made me realize how important advocacy is to create change. Since then, I haven't stopped being an advocate for the underprivileged and underserved. If I see a need and I feel passionate about creating the necessary change, I will not stop until I am successful. This can get tiring and stressful at times, but I continue to remind myself of why the work I do is necessary, and who it will benefit, and this keeps me going. My unapologetic, fact-based advocacy has landed me on many boards, and I have been instrumental in helping make key changes, especially in the area of Indigenous issues.

This led to me putting my name in that to be on the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce Board, of which I became the first Indigenous Female President, and only the eighth woman President in the organization's 110-year history. I saw that there wasn't enough representation of Indigenous people or women on the board so I made it my mission to change that. The year I was President we had 4 Indigenous directors, and the majority of the Board consisted of women. My first AGM was an eye opener, and I had to ask myself, how can I make this better?

The result was policy changes and advocating for the necessary inclusion and representation of Indigenous voices throughout this organization. I asked the necessary questions and was persistent with follow through. Was I scared or nervous doing all of this? Absolutely, but I did it anyway because it was the right thing to do, and someone had to do it. There is a quote I always refer to,

"When you step out on the ledge of complete darkness, faith is knowing you will either have something solid to stand on or you will learn how to fly."

My unrelenting need for equality and fairness led to an opportunity that was offered to me to enter the corporate world, something I didn't know much about, but knew that I needed to see where this opportunity would lead me. In 2011, when I was just finishing my first year of my Master’s of Education in Multidisciplinary Leadership, I left my teaching career behind and became the Corporate Affairs Manager for Ridley Terminals Inc. (RTI).

I finished my Master’s Degree in 2014 and helped RTI become the leader in our community in corporate social responsibility by taking my knowledge of the community, my skills and experiences gained through my education and teaching career, my passion, and combining them to form a community network where RTI's success could translate into a benefit for the community. We are not a company that just writes a cheque and be done with it, we are the type of company that has a voice at many community tables, engages in dialogue with the community, proactively seeks out ways and areas in which we can support the community through education initiatives, supporting the health care sector and youth organizations, and so much more. This is what I was able to create, and I am very proud of this accomplishment.

One thing I learned recently about myself is that I lived most of my life in survival mode. What I mean by this is that I was always looking at things from deficit thinking, a place of lack. Because of this I was always striving for more, and I viewed my accomplishments very matter of factly, I was just doing what I was capable of and what had to be done and didn't take the time to celebrate myself. When I was talking to a new friend a couple years back I realized that I have accomplished a lot and deserved to be celebrated. Because of the shame of the sexual abuse I carried, I lived most of my life thinking I didn't deserve anything, I wasn't worthy.

I was 33 when I had my first healing experience. Something just came to me and I knew I couldn't continue to live my life trying to please everyone around me, while not pleasing myself. I continued my healing journey from the wounds of my childhood for many more years, taking different courses, and helping others along the way as well. Realizing that I have a gift of being in service and helping others I decided to formalize it by taking a coach training program, and started my own business, Elevate and Empower Coaching and Consulting. The completion of this program really filled my cup and solidified my purpose in life.

Things finally felt on track for me, then I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Breast Cancer, in February 2020. I became the fourth generation on my mom's side of the family to have breast cancer, but we don't have the hereditary gene. After my first appointment with my oncologist in March 2020 the world shut down due to the global pandemic and my course of treatment took a slight turn. Not only was I diagnosed with cancer, but I had to go through treatments during a global pandemic, knowing that if I caught the virus it could kill before the cancer ever would.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through the mind, body, and soul healing that was necessary has been a great lesson for me, and I am grateful for it. I went through all the treatments, first chemotherapy, then surgery (mastectomy and full lymph node dissection on my left side), then radiation, and now hormone therapy, and what feels like endless physiotherapy to regain the motion in my left shoulder. This journey solidified for me how important gratitude is, through the good, the bad and the ugly. On my worst days throughout treatment, I constantly reminded myself that this was only temporary and that I could manifest a healthy mind, body and soul. I worked with my soul family on my personal healing, healing generational traumas, and clearing energy blocks through energy therapy.

My doctors told me that my tumour would either not shrink at all or would shrink very little through chemotherapy, but that chemotherapy was needed in order to kill off any cancer cells that may have travelled elsewhere. At the end of my chemo treatments, I had an ultrasound and my tumor shrunk 45%! I completely believe that this was due to the healing work I was doing and the energy therapy, combined with the chemotherapy. Also, at no point during my journey did I feel like I had cancer, I didn't say I had cancer, I always referred to it as "my diagnosis". I kept a positive attitude and always found the gratitude in every situation. I focused on me for once, and my healing, instead of on everyone else. Other challenges came about during this time, but I kept my focus on complete healing. I learned the importance of taking care of myself first so I can be in service to others more effectively, I found the joy in life again, I appreciated every little thing, and I learned to rest when I needed it.

Life can really suck sometimes, but we have a choice on what we do and how we look at it; feed the pain and suffer, or feed the fulfillment and experience joy and happiness."

Michelle is an experienced leadership coach, educator and corporate manager with a demonstrated history of successfully bridging gaps between industry and Indigneous communities. Michelle is the Corporate Affairs Manager at Ridley Terminals, where she has worked since 2011 and has her own coaching business, Elevate and Empower Coaching. Previous to that she worked as a teacher and Vice Principal for 10 years.

Michelle has sat on many Boards, including serving as the first Indigenous woman President of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce. Michelle currently is the Vice President of the Women's Leadership Network, and sits on the following Boards for the Province, the Industry Training Authority, the Indigenous Business and Investment Council, and the Medal of Good Citizenship.

Michelle received a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from Vancouver Island University and a Master of Education in Multidisciplinary Leadership from the University of Northern British Columbia. She also received a Diploma in Solution Focused Coaching, and a Certificate in Advanced Management.

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