Two Edmonton companies are partnering to offer a new bursary to MacEwan students. The pipikwan pêhtâkwan and FKA Design Bursary is an annual $4,000 bursary available for Indigenous students in the design program.

The bursary was established this year by Shani Gwin and Robert Jennings, founders of pipikwan pêhtâkwan and FKA, respectively. Gwin is sixth-generation Métis and descendant of Michel First Nation. She’s also a MacEwan public relations alum, who recently channelled her passion for amplifying Indigenous voices and stories into a successful public relations company.

“Before I got into the program at MacEwan, I realized a lot of the stories in the media, or even the narratives and stereotypes that were being shared about Indigenous People were quite harmful. They weren’t reflective of my experience growing up in my community with my family,” she says.

This disconnect between reality and media portrayals can be partially explained by a lack of racialized minority voices in the field. “There aren’t a lot of Indigenous People – or marginalized communities – represented in communications,” says Gwin, who found her own calling when she took a position in the City of Edmonton Indigenous Relations Office where she identified the need for public relations specifically to Indigenous clients and stories. She decided to fill the gap. 

Gwin describes pipikwan pêhtâkwan as “Indigenous owned, led and majority staffed by Indigenous People.” In the past two years, the company has expanded from being a single-person organization to a team of 25. During that growth period, she struggled to find Indigenous designers to join her team.

She consulted Jennings, who has been a mentor to her as she grows her business, about the issue. “I just said, ‘it’s really tough to find Indigenous graphic designers,’ and he asked, ‘well, what can we do about that?’"

Jennings says that he has seen the same issues as Gwin throughout his career in marketing. “Our industry does suffer from a lack of diversity. We know inclusive marketing drives better results and we need a diverse team to deliver that. We’ve made specific changes to our recruitment process to improve diversity, but it’s a short-term solution. We’ve recognized the need to address it at an educational level, by encouraging people from different backgrounds to pursue careers in our industry.”

Jennings hopes that the bursary will provide some of that encouragement to new students. “It says to Indigenous People, ‘this is a career that you can pursue.’ If you’re not told that you can explore certain things, you may assume incorrectly that you cannot, because people or society haven’t told you that option is available to you,” says Jennings.

When the two started to discuss the details of what a potential award might look like, Jennings says the decision to provide a bursary was purposeful. “There’s a place for performance-based scholarships and awards, but they tend to reward people who are already coming from a place of privilege. Bursaries are a better way to create equity in industries and in the workforce.”

The two decided to pool their resources. “By working together, collaboratively and in a community-based fashion, we could actually make a bigger impact on one person’s life and cover a significant part of their tuition,” says Jennings.

When it came to choosing MacEwan, Gwin and Jennings each had their own reasons. Gwin noted that she isn’t the only MacEwan alum on her team, which contributed to her desire to start the bursary here. “One of our designers took the MacEwan design program as well, and spoke very highly of it,” she says.

For Jennings, it was a chance to create new relationships. FKA has implemented bursaries at NAIT and the University of Alberta, and he wanted to expand further. “I wanted to have an award at MacEwan, and this was the push I needed to get in contact and make that happen.”

The bursary is available annually, with the hope that it will be around for a very long time. “We’re a startup and these sorts of partnerships are new for us,” says Gwin. “We would love to keep contributing to see more diversity in post secondary, and also in our field. If there’s any way that we can lift our community up and support them on their journey to economic sovereignty, we will.”

“My intention is that this will go indefinitely,” says Jennings. “You can’t effect change like this without a concerted, long-term effort.”

To read more about this bursary and many others, head to The application deadline for the pipikwan pêhtâkwan and FKA Design Bursary is September 30.

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