Women in Wind: Jen Ashawasegai Pereira

Pattern Canada Stories

Written By: Pattern Stories

Jen with her mom at the CanWEA Awards in 2019.

“I’m a proud Anishinabe citizen of Henvey Inlet First Nation in Robinson Huron Treaty territory. I’m a daughter, a sister, an auntie, niece, mother, grandmother, and Anishinabe storyteller.”

With that, Jennifer Ashawasegai Pereira introduced herself to me, and what followed was an interesting conversation with a talented woman who used traditional storytelling combined with professional experience as a journalist to build a successful career in wind.

“One of our Ashinabek principles is to discuss whether or not a decision will be good for the next seven generations and beyond,” Jennifer told me. “It is very important for us to consider impacts projects will have long term for the generations that come after us.”

Career

Early on in her career, Jennifer worked as a news reporter for radio in Parry Sound, Ontario, Sudbury, Ontario and then Kansas, USA.

After, she worked as a freelance journalist and produced a weekly, one-hour Aboriginal news magazine program entitled Bamoseda — “Walking together” in Anishinabemowin — for the Rogers radio network, which aired on about 26 of the media corporation’s radio stations and online.

She did print stories for Anishinabek News and Windspeaker magazine, with a focus on politics, resource development, and culture. She also Skyped into APTN National News once a week for a Northern Ontario News roundup. 

Jennifer continued her career in the RHT by carrying out their communications plan, wrote media releases, scheduled interviews and press conferences regarding RHT court cases, and wrote editorials to submit to news organizations on behalf of Chiefs.

 Award winners at CanWEA in 2019.

Her skills in distilling news, telling an understandable story, and being an expert communicator led her to her current role as a First Nations Community Liaison for AECOM, which involves a number of important duties. 

When there is a proposal that can affect an Indigenous community, Jennifer will make proposal contributions as they relate to Indigenous community consultation and engagement activities. 

For projects that are awarded, she will liaise with affected communities. She is also a member of Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) taskforce and is assisting the team to achieve the gold level program status with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Part of that work has required her to develop and deliver Indigenous Cultural Awareness training for AECOM’s Canadian staff.

Communications and Storytelling

Jennifer’s work plays a very important part in helping people in Henvey Inlet First Nation (HIFN) understand exactly how the wind project would affect them and their community.

“One of our Ashinabek principles is to discuss whether or not a decision will be good for the next seven generations and beyond,” Jennifer told me. “It is very important for us to consider impacts projects will have long term for the generations that come after us.”

Pre-pandemic helicopter tour of the wind turbines.

Jennifer was explaining this to me in the context of energy creation via Henvey Inlet Wind

“Big wind projects like this are kitchen table issues,” she explained, “and it was a very important time for HIFN because of the long-lasting impact. I worked as a communications consultant for Henvey Inlet First Nation to assist with consensus building in the community with respect to the proposed wind energy project and First Nations Lands Management Act.” Jennifer also prepped HIFN leadership for media interviews. In short, she played a small part in getting the project over the finish line. 

“There was a lot of education and consensus-building,” she said, “and the project has been a success. Pattern has been good to work with, and our community has benefited in jobs and energy.”

As an anecdote, Jennifer shared with me that “community members are excited to have wind turbines on their land.” As proof, she noticed fellow community members post turbine pictures to various social media platforms. 

She ended by commenting, “Wind has absolutely been positive for us.”

Hand drumming with Ode’min Kwe singers at a HIFN traditional pow wow 

Recognition

Jen has received a number of awards for her work:

2008: Debwewin citation by the Anishinabek Nation for telling Anishinabe stories in mainstream media.

2017: Awarded the Humility Award by her community for her volunteer work and Anishinabe learning journey. (Humility is one of the Seven Grandfather teachings: Truth, Courage, Humility, Love, Wisdom, Honesty and Respect.)

2019: Friends of Wind Award from CanWEA

Family

In addition to her professional work, Jennifer talked to me about her family and shared an impactful story about community outreach. 

“At one point, there were some Anishinabek employees who felt like they couldn’t make their concerns heard, as they had misgivings about destroying or otherwise harming the land.”

Along with her son, Dmitri Ashawasegai, they held traditional talking circles to debrief and allow people to share their feelings about the development of the land. 

“We had an Eagle feather and passed it to people with misgivings. They were able to safely express their concerns in a supportive atmosphere of respect.” 

When I asked her why her son was also needed to help facilitate, she let me know it’s customary in Anishinabek culture to have a balance between male and female. 

Besides her son, Jennifer’s family includes her husband Alex whom she endearingly calls, “an awesome, supportive guy,” and a daughter, Deidre Contin, who is attending Concordia University and studying creative writing. 

Jennifer loves the outdoors, with hiking and snowshoeing being two of her favourite activities depending on the season. “I like to be with my family and I enjoy being in the bush,” she told me. “My Anishinabek culture and community are an incredibly important part of my life, I participate in my culture and attend land-based events as much as I can — and currently, as the pandemic dictates. When asked, I volunteer my help in these events. I especially love being at these events with my whole family.”

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