Meet the Gwin Sisters

🎙️ Listen to Fall 2020 Mentor Shani Gwin talk about the BIPOC focussed mentorship program on Edmonton AM: interVivos looks to bridge the diversity gap at work (December 2020)

Shani and Teneya Gwin are a part of our first-ever Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (or BIPOC) focused mentor program. They’re also the first set of sisters to participate as mentors with interVivos. We are celebrating these milestones by showcasing them on our blog. Read below to find out more about the Gwin Sisters. We had the pleasure of having a physically-distanced interview with them in early November 2020.

Here is what they told us about their roles in the business world:

Teneya: We chose career paths that complement each other, and we can partner on projects. Being raised in a proud Métis family, we both knew it was essential to break down barriers and create spaces and platforms for Indigenous voices. There are probably very few times when we are together that we don’t bounce business or project ideas off of one another, and I admire her advice.

Shani: I’m proud of us. To think how far we’ve come in our journey from five years ago, there’s a lot to celebrate. As Teneya mentioned, our careers work well together, so it’s been a lot of fun and because we are sisters; we get to be brutally honest. It can be deadly! We help each other grow and see new parts in the work. I value Teneya’s insight. She recently trained some of my staff and she’s so great at what she does. We do have many mentors, Elders, and leaders we get to work with and learn from everyday. I’m very grateful to them all for their support and for sharing their knowledge with us.

We also asked about the best career decisions they have made: 

Teneya: The best career decision I have made was to leave a corporate organization and start my own consulting company. On my own, I had to believe in my skills, and I was finally able to see my strengths. I felt I was always trying to sell my services and explain why the Indigenous perspective was critical in my corporate role. Once I made the terrifying decision to go on my own, my entire life changed personally and professionally. The amount of growth I have gone through in 4.5 years is bananas!

Shani: I agree. Leaving my government job to focus on Indigenous communities, organizations, and projects was the best decision I made. It was scary to leave a salary, benefits and paid vacation, but I went for it, and thankfully, I haven’t regretted it. There comes a time when you have to make a leap of faith as an entrepreneur. It is a lot of work to make it happen, and I took it as far as possible while still working my other fulltime job. I appreciate the support and mentorship from Chief Tony Alexis during that time and even today. He was very influential to that decision and continues to champion me and the work I do. Ishnish Chief Alexis.

Then, we delved into the common challenges that they see in their work:

Shani and Teneya: When we come up against resistance, typically we find that the challenge is really about the other party not knowing or lacking general awareness about the issue at hand or the history between Indigenous people and Canada. There’s a lot of groundwork that goes into mitigating that resistance. We find that we are educating and sharing knowledge before we can even work on the initial problem. Once we can bring in that context, the resistance isn’t as heavy-handed, and we find people are generally more willing to understand and move past it. It’s essential to find someone to lean on when doing this work; it is emotional labour. We are lucky to have each other and help move each other forward because sometimes it can be exhausting.

We wanted to find out about their mentors:

Shani and Teneya: There are so many mentors just in our family that we look up to and rely on for advice. Our mother, Carola Cunningham, has worked in justice, housing, family services, and consulting, specifically with Indigenous communities in Canada and abroad. Our father, Lloyd Gwin, has worked most of his career in skills development, training, and employment for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit across Canada and is very active in the Métis community as a volunteer. Our poppa, Chester Cunningham, founded Native Counselling Services of Alberta and has been critical in representing Indigenous folks in the justice system and was instrumental in decreasing Indigenous people’s incarceration rates. And our Kokum, Florence Gwin, who taught us the importance of education, sharing what little you have with others, and always lead with kindness. These are just a few of those in our family that we wanted to acknowledge. They have the most significant impacts on our lives and how we move forward on our journey.

They also shared how work and self-care go together, especially during the pandemic:

Shani: I was in a meeting the other day, and someone shared the importance of community care over self-care. We can talk all we want about the importance of bubble baths or going for a walk alone, yet many of us will not have the privilege to do those. Community care is helping take the load off others in your community and vice versa. I have two children, my partner works out of the house, and my company is the busiest it’s ever been. I had no time for self-care during the pandemic. I wanted to, but the extent of it was leaving to get groceries alone once my partner was home. During that time, I leaned hard on my community to help. My mom would drop off a meal once in a while, so I had one less thing to worry about.

 My sister took my kids as part of our cohort/bubble so I could get work and housework done. My dad would bring baked treats, and once it was safe to do so, he would babysit my children. Community care was self-care. It’s an important distinction to make. We can build our communities and rely on them when we need them. And vice versa. We delivered groceries and necessities to my parents during the pandemic; we brought over meals, and FaceTimed them with the kids. We had ‘bring your own hot dog’ fires outside with them once it was warmer. This was our way of taking care of them and their mental health during a difficult time.

Teneya: During this pandemic, it has been extremely challenging for me to find time for self-care, and I need to make more time for this. Unfortunately, most of my work takes place during naptime, and once my child is in bed for the night it’s exhausting, but I know I’m not alone. My partner works out of town and is a business owner himself, so we both know the importance of hard work.

I am mindful of when I feel lighter, and those moments are when I’m with my family, doorstop visits with my friends, tea and cookies with my parents, and backyard fun with my sister and her kids. These moments are my self-care, being with those that I love. As you can tell by our responses, our cups are filled with community care; it’s a great example of why we chose the career paths we did. 

Teneya is a first-time mentor with us, and we are thrilled to have Shani as a repeat mentor! We asked what they think is the role of a mentor:

Teneya: I value the importance of building relationships; as a mentor, I am excited to learn from and exchange ideas with my protégé. I have hired and worked alongside so many incredible people; seeing their growth or catching up from time to time makes me honoured to have been part of their journey, and I hope to do the same through this process.

Shani: I love meeting and connecting with new people and seeing people I know and care about succeed. This is an excellent opportunity for me to keep sharing my knowledge with others, but also I get to learn so much from my protégé. Their perspectives and expertise are just as valuable to me. My first interVivos mentorship experience was a perfect match. We were on different career paths, which made it enjoyable. I learned about the tech industry and the innovative projects they were working on, and I shared my skillset with them to help build their career. I found it extremely rewarding, and we are still in touch. We just worked on getting their company some air time on CBC radio.

 

If you’re interested in being a volunteer mentor with interVivos in 2021,  please email mentorship@intervivos.ca. We are always looking for diverse mentors from all professional backgrounds. Stay tuned to our social media to find out more about the journeys of the Gwin sisters as mentors with our program.