Regina, Treaty 4: Robyn Pitawanakwat
(Photo by Eagleclaw Thom, Intro by Andrew Lowen)
Activist, organizer, shit disturber, thinker, mother, friend, diaper bank impresario: Robyn embodies these roles and more. Raised by an activist mother and stepfather, Robyn had three children of her own before returning to the activist life that she grew up with, and this is the context in which I’ve had the privilege to get to know her and to organize with her.
Robyn wants a future for her children – and all Indigenous children – that isn’t compromised by the systemic injustices of Canada’s ongoing colonialism. I know Robyn to be generous and committed, but she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Her love for her kids animates her politics, while her impatience with the BS of false authorities – be they police chiefs, politicians, or bureaucrats – fuels her irreverent humour.
In the time that I’ve gotten to know her, Robyn has emerged as a leading grassroots organizer and a spokesperson (however reluctant) for anti-colonial struggles in Regina, Treaty 4 territory. And she’s done nearly all of it – whether out in the streets or in meetings – with her young children at her side.
KC: What kinds of projects are you involved in right now?
My current projects include: olonialism No More Solidarity Camp, nvironment Team for the Regina Folk Festival, egina Diaper Bank operation, ome Clean Laundromat operation, mmigration Detention solidarity work, oices for Justice and Police Accountability, and nti-colonial homeschooling of three children
KC: What’s your day job? What do you like about it? What’s challenging?
I run the Regina Diaper Bank and Come Clean Laundromat in Regina’s Heritage Community. The Regina Diaper Bank is a not-for-profit organization which provides free diapers to qualifying low income families. Come Clean Laundromat allows for the cloth diapers used by the diaper bank clientele to be washed free. The laundromat is also open to the general public. There has been tremendous support for this project and I have been overwhelmed by the cloth diaper donations that have come in from individuals and organizations such as Groovy Mama, and by the volunteers referred by Regina Open Doors Society.
My job allows me to do anti-poverty work, interact directly with the community, and work in a space where my children can be with me anytime. The most challenging thing about the diaper bank is the hours that are required to keep the laundromat open daily. There are already a great core group of volunteers, but there is always room for more volunteers so people can have more free time.
My other day job is homeschooling my three Indigenous children. Their father and I have made a conscious decision to provide an anti-colonial, child-led learning environment. For us this means letting them teach us as much as we teach them by not prescribing their gender identity, encouraging them to always question authority, and valuing people above things.
KC: What’s important to you?
Community is important to me; I want my children to have a physically and emotionally safe space to grow and learn. Equity is important to me; I want the wealth disparity in Saskatchewan to end. Currently the child poverty rate for children living on reserve in Saskatchewan is 69% (the second highest in Canada) while the child poverty rate for non-racialized children living in urban areas is 13% (the lowest in Canada.)
Language is important to me; I want my children to have free access to Anishnaabe language classes. Justice is important to me; I want to see the deaths of women like Nadine Machiskinic properly investigated and all responsible parties be held accountable for their actions or inaction.
KC: What do you like most/least about Regina?
I enjoy the arts and sports communities that my children have brought me into: FadaDance and Flux School of Human Movement have both embraced my gender fluid, Indigenous children.
I also love the community that has been built around Voices for Justice and Police Accountability and Colonialism No More Solidarity Camp. Both of these spaces are consensus-based and inclusive.
My least favourite things are the complacency of the average citizen to the injustices that surround them, the wealth disparity by ethnicity, the over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice and foster systems, and the lack of accountability of our police force.
KC: What is your impression of Saskatoon?
I lived in Saskatoon and attended university there for three semesters before moving back to Regina. At that time it seemed Indigenous people had more job opportunities there in Indigenous-run organizations where some amazing projects were being taken on. I also loved that Indigenous voices were represented in the media more than anywhere I’d lived before. I still enjoy reading anything by Doug Cuthand.
KC: How do you survive the winters?
The winters can be survived by holding caroling protests in the malls around Regina when your city wages a battle against the poor. Voices for Justice and Police Accountability staged a wonderful protest during the busy holiday shopping season to bring attention to the unconscionable Unwanted Guest Initiative that pushes poor people out of public and private spaces around Regina.
When not dealing with unjust bylaws I also love having the blustery cold as an excuse to cuddle with my little people.
From the Proust Questionnaire: What do you most value in your friends?
I value those who put people above property and profit. I value humility, integrity and humour. I value kindness and compassion. I value those who show up. I can safely say that my closest friends embody all of the above.