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Latest NewsJul 17, 2016
When Savvy Simon Says, “Leadership and Language”: People Stop and Listen
by Andréa Ledding, Media Consultant
Copyright © 2016, Andréa Ledding. All Rights Reserved.
Savvy Simon is a positivity dynamo hailing from Elsipogtog First Nation on the East Coast, who first began sharing her story after dancing at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics with 350 other Indigenous performers from across Turtle Island. They were all selected as community role models from their various nations, for their traditional lifestyles as well as their leadership and performing abilities.
“We partied sober so hard for two weeks straight, and danced so hard with Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams, and there were different cultures singing and dancing and sharing and it was unreal; it brought us to tears so many times,” says Simon. “It was such an emotionally powerful time, a once-in-a-lifetime event with different, beautiful styles of Natives all in one place.”
Simon has always been on the Red Road, choosing to live a sober life free from substance misuse, thanks to the example of her grandmother with whom she is very close.
“I felt very alone on this path sometimes on the reserve, and so when I was growing up and there were a lot of parties and drinking and drugs around me, I was wondering where the sober people were at, the Red Road — I love to have a good time but not drinking.”
When she began to share her story of loneliness and then connection with others who were like-minded, people loved it. At this writing, she has over 25,000 followers on Facebook, and additional thousands on Twitter and Instagram.
“Then I started to do more self work, healing work and finding myself and re-creating myself,” she says, adding that she got braver about sharing her own story. “I’ve chosen positivity as a survival tactic. I realized the more honest and vulnerable I am, the more people are attracted to hearing it and can relate.”
When she speaks from her heart, her audience appreciates her candor: she gets hugs and responses from many going through similar circumstances but feeling like they were the only one. They are so grateful she speaks up.
And speaking of hugs, that is another of her specialties.
“I went to Brazil for World Youth Day in 2013 or so and received free hugs from a guy holding a sign in the middle of a busy subway,” noted Simon, who was lost at the time and didn’t speak Portugese, and so it had a powerful effect on her. “I said, I’m going to bring this back to my community.”
So on her way to Millbrook Pow-wow near Truro, Nova Scotia, she stopped at a gas station, got some cardboard out of the trash and wrote ‘Free Hugs’ with a Sharpie. She kept the sign covered up, waiting until she had enough courage because she wasn’t sure what the response would be.
“The response was awesome.”
A group of moccasin makers took a big group hug photo, while one non-Aboriginal man asked very politely for a hug, held on for a long time crying, and then shared that since his wife had died, he’d had no physical contact with others — they had no family in the area.
“He really missed having comforting people around. We really never know what people are going through around us, the battles they’re facing, so if we can cheer up someone’s day and lift up their spirit, and make them happy, what could be better?” she asks. Her “Free Hug” sign now goes with her everywhere, and she is constantly making new ones as she gives both hugs and signs away.
Besides her Red Road journey and ‘Free Hugs’ along the way, Savvy Simon is a language revitalization warrior. Her Mi’kmaq catchphrase has become a successful clothing line: “L’nu’isi, it’s that easy!” She has taken her tried and true social media techniques to other communities to help them get their own revitalization started, connecting people through hashtagging languages on Instagram and Vine and Twitter. Because her grandmother is an Indian Residential School survivor, she is the reason Simon wants other IRS survivors and their families to learn their language.
“With my grandmother it was hate that took the language away but love that brought it back — she was retaught by my grandfather so she’s fluent again,” shares Simon. “She inspired me ever since I was young, she’s now 90 years old, and they had 19 children together. My grandmother has always been my inspiration and role model, she was the reason why I stayed sober.”
She will often ask little things like ‘what’s your name little girl or little boy” in the Mi’kmaq language and teach them how to respond if they don’t know.
“I want them to have that good feeling that I had growing up.”
One of Simon’s main speaking messages focuses on leadership. Her key point is to not be afraid to be yourself or to walk alone when the crowd is going a different way and you have to go your own way.
“There are a lot of other eagles doing the same thing in their own way. They’re out there: we exist and we continue to attract those eagles into our lives. The eagle will give, the eagle gives you your feather for prayer, and the seagull will take, the gulls take your fries at McDonald’s,” she explains. “Don’t be afraid to be a leader, not a follower: to be who you are in your heart, to follow those crazy passions and dreams even when nobody believes in you.”
Savvy Simon lives this philosophy for herself. She left a guaranteed wage with a good government position to instead spread her message of love, leadership, and language.
“I wanted to help people and to spread love and to make a career of it. I had to lean on myself and Creator: to open myself up to the community with the language and with my story.”
She shares her own story of survival and overcoming different types of abuse with youth and other audiences. Simon promotes the lifestyle choice to be sober and positive, and also enjoys leading talking and healing circles with youth. She wants both youth and adults to see there is a way to cope without being owned by the bottle.
“Life is hard: there will always be obstacles, there will always be challenges, it will never be perfect, so I try to share the tools to overcome challenges — challenges like lateral violence, bullies, feeling alone or abandoned.”
Having been through abandonment in her own life, she has a great passion to share her story, her warmth, and her love, with the message that there is more good than bad in the world.
And now as a new mom, she is looking at parenting with new eyes too. Her overall message is to believe in yourself even when it feels like nobody else does.
“And to surround yourself with positivity.”
She believes in positivity so much she has launched a “Positive Vibes Only” clothing line to accompany her language wardrobe, including her “We Are Still Here” logo with native language hashtags in a dreamcatcher. They can all be found by searching “Shop With Savvy.”
“I really believe in order for your life to become successful you have to surround yourself with positive people and keep your mindset as positive as possible. That’s what helped me to get through my teenage years,” says Simon. “There’s always negative — it’s so common and overwhelming — and it seems like to have a positive attitude is the harder route.”
Perhaps positivity was a gift she was given, but it’s also something she actively cultivates and shares with others. In fact, one video she made with “repeat after me” positive self-talk has over 2 million views so far, and is still popular. She’s had grown men with PTSD from military service come up to her and thank her for making that video telling them they deserve to be happy.
“It comes with practice and we have to keep practicing in order for it to come naturally. It’s work but it’s worth it.”
She is a speaker who practices what she preaches: her authenticity shines through.
Copyright © 2016, Andréa Ledding. All Rights Reserved.
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