Shani Gwin prefers to be behind the scenes, but she’s at the forefront of change for Indigenous communities in Canada.
“One thing that really stood out to me growing up was I never really saw people that represented what I’d seen,” says Gwin. “A lot of my family members are darker skinned, and I never saw news stories that were positive.”
Gwin had big shoes to fill (her grandfather was Dr. Chester Cunningham, the founder of Native Counselling Services of Alberta, Canada’s ﬁirst Indigenous court-worker program). Her family raised her to never pass judgment based on anyone’s past or struggles they’ve faced.
“As a Native person, I think you’re just expected to be an advocate,” says Gwin. “You just don’t really have a choice. Every day someone says something about Indigenous people and you’re either going to sit back and be tormented by it or you’re going to speak up and try to make change and try to educate people as much as you can.”
Through pipikwan pêhtâkwan (formerly Gwin Communications), Gwin gained attention with the #ProtectOurElders campaign, which included notable Indigenous community members like model Ashley Callingbull and ex-Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear. She also partnered with Sticks & Stones Communications to create videos highlighting the cultural significane of the City’s new ward names.
“As an Indigenous person, seeing those names and seeing other people using them… it’s really meaningful.”