Nicole Robertson, Muskwa Productions & Consulting
“When we come to a place of surrender that is when you can actually see the workings of the creator in your life” – N.Robertson
PROFILE – Nicole Robertson from Sandy Bay Saskatchewan has made her career in the media for over two decades, a passion that ignited at just 14 years of age in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. After completing a program offered by her high school in journalism, she knew that this was what she wanted to do. She received her first professional gig at 18 years old as a reporter with Calgary Native News covering hockey games and arts & entertainment. This eventually led to work with several mainstream media companies including the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, A-Channel, Global, CBC and CTV.
Robertson has devoted her life to creating awareness about First Nations people through the media. Her career has given her a solid foundation in the industry and has taken her all across Canada; directing, producing, and reporting on issues that impact Indigenous communities. She has worked with many high profile people in the business including Sandi Renaldo and Lloyd Robertson who have all contributed a great deal to her experience. This led to the creation of her own business, Muskwa Productions & Consulting which has generated many opportunities to support her community on a national level and earned her the title of the 2009 Aboriginal Women Entrepreneur Award of Distinction from the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.
Muskwa Productions & Consulting specializes in media relations and producing videos, developing and advancing communication strategies for First Nation communities including well known organizations and leaders like Chief Derek Nepinak with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Chief Theresa Spence from Attawpiskat First Nation who received international media attention during the Idle No More movement in 2012. Her company also produces educational and commercial videos as well as media training, public relations and securing maximum coverage through the press, television and radio. Her positive spin on bringing important issues to light is what sets her apart from many other media outlets.
Robertson’s passion for supporting Indigenous women stems from her own humble beginnings as a youth growing up in an inner city neighbourhood as well as her experiences as an Indigenous women. Brought up like most youth in the inner city, she had gone through many challenges. She used these experiences to her advantage to move forward and break through the barriers. It prepared her for many roles including her most important role to date which is mom to 10 year old daughter Sequan. Like most parents, she wanted a better life for her daughter and worked hard to achieve a comfortable lifestyle but never forgetting where she came from. She is extremely grateful today to be able to pass down those important values including reciprocity, something her daughter has embraced and practices in her own life.
When Robertson is not with her daughter or working, she lends her time to many causes including Women in Leadership (WIL), a national non profit organization dedicated to advancing women in leadership roles. She recently hosted the WIL of Alberta Aboriginal Women’s Leadership Luncheon on September 18th at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel in Calgary, Alberta. Entering its second year of celebrating achievements of Indigenous women, this event recognizes accomplishments and brings leaders and representatives from across the province for dialogue on community and leadership development as well as networking opportunities. She also starred in a reality television pilot project shot in the UK which will hopefully air in the near future, a project that connects her with her Scottish heritage.
How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as very passionate, I am focused, and I am always willing to help in our community and the reason being is that I was brought up in our communities, nationally because I moved all over the place when I was young. I moved here to Treaty 7 over 20 years ago so I call this home. I am originally from Saskatchewan, my mom is cree and my dad is Scottish. I relate to my moms side which is the bear side which is why I call my company Muskwa because in Cree that means bear, Muskwa Productions.
I would definitely say that my whole outlook and why I am doing what I am doing is to raise awareness and break down stereotypes and barriers for our people, it always has been. That has been my focus in whatever I have done; media relations, or being a reporter in the past, producer and being publicist which is what I do now.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a video right now for a First Nation. When I work with First Nations, I put together a communications strategy as well as a protocol and a lot of them are starting from square one so its building up capacity within Nations to take over their own communications so for instance out in Hobbema I worked in Samson to help one of the ladies to become a communications coordinator for her Nation and she went on to successfully help her Nation and she started working with another Nation in that area. I always want to leave them with somebody that has the capacity to do what I as doing with them.
What inspires you to do the work you do?
My daughter and also the state of where the community is at. For instance, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women #MMIW right now that is a huge topic but I have always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do a documentary on that. I have researched and have filmed some walks in the last ten years so that is something on the horizon. I am also inspired by the people I work with in community, like this women in leadership non profit foundation that I work with. It inspires me to assist other women in advancing them in leadership roles. This past two years i worked as the Chair specifically with Indigenous women so we had a luncheon a few weeks ago in Calgary and I got some great feedback and its accessible for women.
This year it was $20 entry fee to get in and last year was free so its not like where you go to some of these workshops where its $150 to $300 to get in. Its something that is totally accessible and that is one of the things I want to do was to continue that work where I am helping other Indigenous women overcome some of the barriers that we face because we all come from different backgrounds and have had instances where we all probably had at one time or another had financial issues or getting to a place. That is one of the things I have put my mind to and have helped to volunteer with this women in leadership foundation.
What prior experiences do you have that helps with the work you do?
Working in television news for almost a decade. I started out in print and then from there went on to work in radio, and then from radio into television. Television was the number one thing that I absolutely loved because it was storytelling with pictures. I went to live in Toronto for two years and got to work from CTV National as a reporter/producer for APTN and a liaison between CTV and APTN. I came to see the calibre of people who spend their whole lives trying to get to that market like Lloyd Robertson who I got to work with on a daily basis, Sandie Rinaldo and all the other people that make up the national news.
It was such an awesome experience in my mid twenties. All the stuff I’ve done I give credit to the creator because there was no way I think I would of been in these places without the help of the creator. I just feel really blessed in that way and humbled that I have had those experiences at an early age.
Who are some of the people you have worked with?
In the business I own and operate I worked with a lot of the people like Treaty leaders; Chief Wallace Fox from Onion Lake First Nation, Chief Derek Nepinak with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Chief Theresa Spence during the Idle No More movement. I assisted the Chiefs to get into parliament by speaking with Charlie Angus, MP, James Bay-Timmins and at the time he invited a handful of Chiefs, Elders and myself as I was recording it with my iPad.
This group came into Parliament and tried to get into the House of Commons as this is where the House was debating the suite of legislation that would affect the land and water of our Indigenous territories. When the group of leaders had tried to follow the Minister of Natural Resources back into the House, they followed but got pushed by security and with the press gallery right there recording this, it went nationally, internationally and my phone was ringing off the hook that evening. This was the kick off of Idle No More because our Peoples has seen through media outlets, literally being pushed by security to defend our Treaty Rights, along with a hashtag created by Tanya Kappo from Alberta and the four women in Saskatchewan doing their teach-ins, so for me when we talk about the beginning of “Idle No More”, I always see it as the perfect storm!
I really believe our ancestors were working with us during that time to bring that spirit alive. I was right in the tipi working with Chief Spence and she definitely was on a hunger strike, I seen nurses come in and check on her blood pressure and stuff. She had lost weight and some of her organs were shutting down when it came closer to the 44 days that she had gone without food. I remember those morning ceremonies that they had, and was right involved in that and that was a very spiritual movement for our people. People see it as a uprising which it was but I see it as a spiritual time that our people were becoming alive in their spirits an rising up to the occasion of truly looking at who we were and the rights we have and really empowering each other. For me it was a pivotal movement in my career because it taught me that the most important thing right now is land, water and our people, the preservation of our culture.
What attributes do you posses that contribute to your success?
I would say that being a mom, I have the attributes of a mother. You see that you manage and you see the generations ahead, and what their gonna have to overcome so for me I would definitely say that the loving nature for mankind and being a peace maker, being a person who tries not to judge and also a person that always tries to look at both sides of the story and not taking a side so to speak unless its extremely pertinent like idle no more where of course I am going to be taking the side of our people and our stand.
I try not to come from a place of pointing a finger, be patient, kind and also just trying show a side that you can have balance in life. Its been three years since I quit drinking and I honestly think that where I live and how I live now, there is much more balance in my life than there was back in the day. I would say that turning 40 too also has become for me a big turning point and looking at ways of physically trying to be in better shape and looking at wanting to be around for my grandchildren.
I wouldn’t say I run everyday but I try to keep up with my daughter, go biking, going for walks and making sure that we take time out in nature is very important. Its calming, and it calming for your child too because I am trying to raise her in a way like I was raised, I would go out and play and climb trees and do stuff that not a lot kids nowadays do.
I am also trying to install the value of giving, so when you take something from the ground like rock, she is very into rocks, that she gives something back. Generosity is very important to me. Giving is so important, if its not financially then my time.
How do you overcome the obstacles that come into your life?
I have a good small network of friends and and also an executive coach that I see that helps to run things by and bounce things off of, I use those resources. I go to an elder as well, so whenever I come into those types of challenges I go outward and seek that. Also the creator as well, I pray about things, that is very important to me. I am rooted in that and when those challenges do come, you know life always throws you curve balls and the main thing is understanding your relationship with the creator and always praying for the best outcome.
Sometimes things just come out of nowhere, there is tough times and I just pray that things are meant for its time, for its season and it will work out and normally in the past it has. Because when we come to a place of surrender that is when you can actually see the workings of the creator in your life and your not trying to control it, your just going ok what I am I meant to learn in all this.
Its been tough getting there believe me. You have to take time, its a daily thing, a daily choice. I still worry about things but I think worrying only gets you to a place of anxiety and leave that. You need to take the higher road and just leave it and enjoy the moments that you have. Especially being a mom you realize that even more, cause you see your children growing up so quickly, like my daughter i just look and thing oh my goodness in how many years is she going to be a teenager. I just try to enjoy each moment.
How do you balance your schedule?
I always have a things to do list, that is my thing so everyday I look at it and say okay priority number one is writing it out, that is really important to me. So write it out and strategize and look at my schedule. I do this after I get my daughter off to school .
Indigenous women face a lot of barriers; how do you see this changing?
We have so many women in different areas and professions, people who are doctors, lawyers, technicians, scientists to everything under the sun that now we have women who are much more outspoken. We have a movement like the sisters in spirit campaign, to women who speak out in the media. We have so many different voices that have really come together in a national united voice from different nations that have helped to move that agenda forward.
We are woman of power, of influence, of being authentic, original. These women have helped to pave that road and to make it very open and wide for the up and coming young women that are coming forward and finishing off their education and doing different things. Whereas before when would turn on the TV and we would only see people like Jesse from Beachcombers, but now we are all over the place. we have really come to a place of being professionals but yet at the same time i think its important to not be what i would consider a colonized professional, but to maintain their indigenous roots and understanding of self but yet moving forward doing what you do professional and not losing yourself in that role, and some people do.
One such person who I look up who has done this is Dr Leroy Little Bear, he has so much education behind him yet he completely utterly understands himself as a Blackfoot man, as person through his ceremonial ways of knowing and being. Another person is Ruth Scalplock from Siksika Nation who has done so much work for her community.
For more information on Muskwa Productions & Consulting check out the website at www.muskwaproductions.com
(Photos provided by N. Robertson)