My Story is a Medicine
Melissa Barnhard

Listen to Melissa's podcast by clicking on any of these platforms

We speak with Melissa Barnhard, an indigenous peer support worker and survivor of the foster care system who has started sharing her story across the city with a peer-led initiative called Face to Face with Stigma.
Her experiences have her an acute awareness of the impacts intergenerational trauma has had on her community and seen her jump into an advocacy and support role.

Participant Reflections

My Story is a Medicine
Melissa Barnhard

Each workshop produces a creative participant reflection – a personal take away from the story they just heard – that is voluntarily shared with the wider community.
We believe that personal narratives have the power to connect individuals across socioeconomic boundaries, and that the rich creative ability of our community is the most effective tool we can wield against the stigma that prevents necessary social change.

Featured Artist

My Story is a Medicine
Melissa Barnhard


Nate Davis

This piece was created for The Existence Project and was drawn on my iPad Pro using Procreate and an Apple Pencil.
After listening to a speaker talk about their struggles against racism, sexism, drugs and the effects that residential schools had on generations of their family I was inspired to take words that I hope will help them heal. Instead of creating a piece based off of what’s happened to them in the past I created something that I hope will help them in the future. Finding connection within community is key to helping anyone heal from their wounds.
This was a very powerful experience for me and I’m honoured to have been a part of this.

Featured Student

My Story is a Medicine
Melissa Barnhard


Sibel Karadag

Student at the University of Victoria

Being a guest in one of the existence project’s workshops was a very humbling experience. Throughout the workshop, I was consistently amazed with the honesty, courage, and connection within the room. My story box was related to a quote from one of the participants that read, “You have no idea how far a little compassion can go” in regards to his experiences with isolation and homelessness. This struck a cord with me as I place great value on the importance of treating all people with respect, as we do not know what others may be going through in their life. In a world where we can often feel very small, helpless, or obsolete, something as simple as a smile or saying hello can make a world of a difference. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked in our busy lives, and we forget to show compassion to those around us. Being a student, it is easy to feel overwhelmed trying to manage mental health and wellbeing while balancing the workload. You never know just how someone might be struggling in whatever circumstances they are bound by. With that said, being compassionate to all the people we encounter in our lives is a more powerful and hopeful tool than it may be recognized for.

As I am nearing the end of my degree in sociology, I have used a structural lens to study many social problems; however, listening to Melissa’s story helped humanize some central themes that I have been studying such as Indigenous identity, intergenerational trauma, displacement, and decolonization. At times during my degree, I have felt very separate from the issues that I study and I have been critical of sociology for lacking an understanding of individual issues and emotional responses to these larger social problems. With that said, hearing Melissa’s story was inspiring as sharing one’s personal hardships takes a great deal of strength and resilience that does not come easy. She has inspired me to grow both internally as well as through further community engagement. Although it is impossible to fully understand what she has gone through, her story was able to bring out commonalities in a group of mostly strangers. It can be daunting to show such vulnerability; however, Melissa’s vulnerability enabled other participants to open up and learn from each other. The existence project has shown me that even if individuals go through completely different hardships throughout their lives, everyone can experience feelings of being lost in such a large world and the comfort that community brings can be so simple yet so valuable.

Community Ally

My Story is a Medicine
Melissa Barnhard


Caitlynn Brownrigg - Justice and Public Safety Sector

I had the privilege of attending a community workshop hosted by the Existence Project. I sat in circle with clients of Anawim House, a sociology student, and a graffiti artist-- as well as Existence Project staff. Our storyteller blew everyone away, and I was struck by the whole experience but two things stood out. The first was the differences between my perspective on Melissa's story and her perspective. I heard a powerful Indigenous women who was deeply impacted by the legacy and trauma of colonialism-- her grandmother went to residential school and her mother was part of the sixties scoop. When we talked after the workshop, she shared that she had been worried that I would judge her. Her concern and my concerns were mirrors of each other, because I felt so much shame that I work in the system and benefit from the system that has needlessly made her life harder. One of the things that we said over and over during the session is that we are all the same. Life experience separates us but everyone wants the same things.

The other part of the experience that I will be thinking about was the young man who sat beside me. When I first sat down, he seemed angry. His physical presence was intense and he reminded me of an ex who had also used drugs and lived on the street in the past. As soon as the story began; however, he came to life and began to share his story. He even joked that once he started talking he wouldn't be able to stop. He shared a lot of personal stories and was very vulnerable with us—as everyone at the workshop was. I bring this up because I initially made some assumptions about him based on my previous experience-- my own blind spots.

The workshop had so much value for all of us. We shared our own experience and learned about ourselves and each other. It's also most likely going to stay with all of us. My job is to support digital transformation in the Justice and Public Safety Sector, so a few days later I went to the Victoria Courthouse to gather some data about what a regular day in court looks like. As I sat in the courthouse I realized that I haven't been in a courtroom for over 15 years. The last time I was in a courthouse it was because I was in a violent domestic relationship-- it was my partner’s hearing. He didn't show up and received the minimum sentence. He had breached his non-contact order with me in the time between the incident that he was charged with and the hearing itself. I only remember this time in my life with a hazy filter so the details aren't clear to me, but I was scared and vulnerable and deeply uncertain about everything. In that courtroom this week I was thinking about myself, I was thinking about Melissa, and I was thinking about the defendant who’s personal life was being dissected in detail in an open courtroom. The difference between all three of us is class and race. I didn't grow up middle class, but I grew up in a wealthy community with all the attendant benefits. I'm also a pretty blonde white woman (which Melissa and I joked about during the workshop). What that means to me is that law enforcement institutions (and all existing power structures) are built to keep me safe. That's not Melissa's experience. The same people and institutions that keep me safe are set up to marginalize and institutionalize her. Not because any individuals mean to, but because of the nature of colonialist power structures.

My heart is both full and shaken and I'm grateful to have had this experience because it has given me some words and stories to keep doing this work, and keep making the changes we need to make so that future me’s and future Melissa’s won't have such different life experiences.