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Val Barber is 2019 Honor the Earth Anishinaabekwe (Woman of the Year)

By Sirella Ford


I was happy to be able to sit down with my old friend, Val, and ask her some questions about her life. She told me her father was Edward Barber, LCO’s first Tribal Judge, her mother was Alberta (Young) Barber, a very accomplished lady from Lac du Flambeau who finished college when she was 70 years old! Her sister is Rose Barber-Minano, who has been an advocate against domestic violence for 35 years and who is married to Bruce Minano, an advocate for birds, especially hummingbirds. She laughed, and said she was also related to practically everyone on LCO and Lac Du Flambeau, which had made it very hard to find a boyfriend when she was young!


I asked what kinds of things have had an influence on her life. She replied that she learned to read when she was around two or three, and has never stopped since. She also credits her many teachers, especially James Lenfesty, one of her first college teachers. taught her to question everything.


Val served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, her toughest teacher. This was where she learned perseverence, discipline, and teamwork.


Val’s father once told her that he was visited by two beings. One was an otter, who smiled and said “You are to have laughter and fun in your life.” The other was a being like a lady, yet like a flower. This spirit told him he would find beauty in all things, and it would save him when he was in great danger. He told her that these gifts were to be hers, also.


I think Val has lived her life around these gifts, she loves to laugh, and is very generous to her students, friends, and family. She says she always found great beauty in even the smallest things; how little animals (like mice and SHREWS!) act, how wonderful plants are to feed and care for us, the colors of everything, and she finds special joy in seeing how young people react to learning new things.


She credits all her ancestors and family for any other abilities she has.


“We HAD to be very smart, imaginative, hardworking people to survive here in the north. It was tough for them, but they flourished, and were thankful every day for the gifts the Creator gave them. We learned to live by a set of values that emphasized sharing and kindness to others as the highest form of human conduct.”


Val has taken these gifts and built a beautiful, fun-loving life, I wish her a very happy year representing the Lac Courte Oreilles people as their Anishinaabekwe.