Meet pipikwan pêhtâkwan’s first hire – Robyn Ferguson

“By helping people feel heard and seen – it feels purposeful. That became a pillar of why I wanted to work with Shani. It didn’t take me long to say, ‘you’re going to have to pry this job from my cold, dead hands.’”

“pipikwan pêhtâkwan feels familial. Everyone feels approachable, easy to work with, and wants to help.”

A Communications Advisor at pipikwan pêhtâkwan, Robyn has been working with the company since 2020.

Robyn is Haudenosaunee (Tuscarora/Cayuga) from the Six Nations of the Grand River in what is now Southern Ontario. The reserve has the largest population of Indigenous Peoples in what is now Canada. It includes members of the Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk), Onyota’a:ka (Oneida), Onöñda’gega’ (Onondaga), Gayogohono (Cayuga), Onöndowága’ (Seneca) and Skaru:reh (Tuscarora) Peoples living together. A graduate of Mount Royal University’s Bachelor of Communication program, Robyn majored in public relations and minored in speech.

The summer of 2020 was an uncertain time. The pandemic forced students out of internships right and left. Although Calgary-typical jobs were available in Oil and Gas, Robyn wasn’t willing to give up on her values. She told her career supervisor that she refused to work for oil companies, no matter the consequence. It was special for Robyn to meet Shani. Getting her first internship with pipikwan pêhtâkwan was empowering – everything Robyn could want in a career.

“Shani is encouraging, motivating, and she made me feel like I could do this – she is a strong mentor,” Robyn says. “pipikwan pêhtâkwan feels familial. It’s not only because of Shani but also because of everyone who works here. Shani has chosen good people in that sense. Everyone feels approachable, easy to work with, and wants to help.”

“By helping people feel heard and seen – it feels purposeful. That became a pillar of why I wanted to work with Shani. It didn’t take me long to say, ‘you’re going to have to pry this job from my cold, dead hands.’”

As an intern, one of Robyn’s first projects was working alongside NiGiNan Housing Ventures, a non-profit charity organization that provides supportive, affordable housing for Indigenous Peoples. NiGiNan utilizes a housing-first approach that follows an Indigenous-based harm reduction model. The organization provides residents with safety, dignity and stability and operates two locations in the Belvedere and Boyle Street neighbourhoods – Ambrose Place and omamoo wango gamik.

“In the sense of making a difference, finding purpose, and seeing tangible change – NiGiNan is what lights me up the most,” Robyn says. “I’ve been able to build a relationship with Carola (Cunningham, NiGiNan CEO) and her team over the past two years. Carola encourages, motivates, and inspires me to be a good person. Carola recognizes that everyone has something going on in their life and that the best way to treat everyone is with love, care, and kindness – she just radiates that.”

Robyn is also a dynamic and moving speechwriter. On November 15, 2021, Dr. Cunningham was awarded an honorary doctorate from MacEwan University – Robyn interviewed Carola and took her tone, values and perspective to write Carola’s acceptance speech.

“Watching Carola give the speech…I was crying,” Robyn says. “Hearing people put that kind of passion out into the world through speech feels like such an accomplishment for me because a part of me goes into speech as well. Through the person’s influence, we’re able to tell both of our stories in a way.”

A portion of Dr. Cunningham’s speech, written by Robyn, is below:

“We are in this life to be in a relationship and to live it together. The road you choose to walk is your own, and it’s up to you to find your way. We can sometimes lose connection to some of those life-givers, but we must remember to care for things that sustain life. When our People stand up for the land, for the water, for the clean air, we are so often met with resistance. These things are the reason we live. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, or where you live, how much money you make, how big your house will be – these will be of little consequence if you cannot live here on the Earth with your family. I hope you will bring your mind to this concept and keep it at the forefront when working and building relationships in the community to create a better life for human beings. It must include taking care of our Earth.”

During her graduating year, Robyn conducted an extensive literature review on decolonizing language. This project is now being used by pipikwan pêhtâkwan to help us continue on our path to changing how Indigenous Peoples are spoken about and referred to in Canadian media.

“I want to be able to share our knowledge in a way that actually works for people,” Robyn says. “There’s just not enough of us across the country telling our stories and helping our People tell our stories, so it’s exciting to watch our growth – to motivate and inspire other Indigenous People to start their own communication agencies.”

If she wasn’t in the public relations field, Robyn would be an author – writing children’s books to help youth cope with traumatic events and how to communicate their feelings. She also dreams of opening up her own quirky, sustainable fashion store.

“I would make clothes,” Robyn says with a laugh. “I’ve always loved it – I’ve always wanted to be like ‘That’s So Raven.’ I just really like gaudy, ridiculous clothing. I remember being seven years old – we were poor, so we always shopped at Value Village or something, and I’d be like, ‘see you later mom,’ and I’d come back with arms full of stuff. Just looking back at pictures of me as a kid, I was like, ‘damn, that’s a cool kid.’ That’s what I’d do – I’d make a weird clothing line and call it That’s So Robyn. It’s a part of who I am, and it always has been.”

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