Robin Stadelbauer – Finding Home

Friday, June 24, 2022

Photo of Robin StadelbauerRobin (right) was a shy, high school teenager when her family left their home in the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and relocated to Waterloo. Robin immediately felt as though she had landed on a faraway planet. Being Indigenous without community or familiar symbols around, Robin struggled to find belonging. She describes this period as one of as cultural isolation; she felt disconnected and lost, and there was no money for long-distance phone calls home, let alone visits.

One of Robin’s high school teachers saw that she was struggling and encouraged her to interview someone at a local Indigenous centre, Weejeendimin, as a school project, and even drove her to the appointment. That interview led to an invitation to a drumming and social event with what was then known as the Aboriginal Student Association on Waterloo’s campus – a bright spot in Robin’s dark time in Waterloo.

After high school, Robin chose Renison for her postsecondary studies due in part to familiarity: Robin’s mom was a Renison grad. Robin already knew a bit about the Social Development Studies (SDS) program, its professors, and the campus. Robin wanted something that gave her a broad range of opportunities, and the SDS program fit the bill. Robin didn’t have a clear career goal in mind, but she knew she wanted to give back to Indigenous communities, particularly her own.

Starting her SDS degree brought mixed feelings for Robin. She loved learning and listening, but she was painfully shy, and it was tough to connect with classmates. Eventually, Robin knew she was just going through the motions. She made the difficult decision to leave school, return to the Reserve, reconnect with family, the land, the water, and heal. Leaving university tasted like failure; she felt as though she was disappointing not only herself but her parents and her community.

Robin came back to school because she wanted to finish and advance her career. She began working on campus at St. Paul’s University College in 2007 before moving to main campus in 2008 and taking on a role in Advancement, a job she loved, and where she would work until 2020. Now at Waterloo full time, Robin turned her sights towards finishing the degree she had started a decade earlier. Renison helped Robin start fresh; she took courses each term, completing a 3-year SDS degree in 2012. She wasn’t done though, and after taking a year off of studying, Robin continued her studies to upgrade her degree, completing her Honours Arts degree with a minor in Anthropology this Spring.

Robin standing with Reni Moose, Renison's mascot, at her graduation in 2012.

Above: Robin stands with Reni Moose, the Renison mascot, at her graduation in 2012. Robin completed a 3-year SDS degree, but ended up returning to complete a 4-year Honours SDS degree with a minor in Anthropology. 

In 2020, Robin started working at the Office of Indigenous Relations reporting to Jean Becker, the AVP. The two had originally met years earlier, only moments after Robin withdrew from university.  As she was leaving campus she walked through St. Paul’s and discovered an Aboriginal Services Counsellor had been hired and was working at St. Paul’s. Robin, feeling the worst she had ever felt, went to the counsellor’s office. Here she found familiarity: Indigenous symbols on the walls and shelves, and the counsellor that looked like an auntie. Overcome by emotion at the mere sight and believing she had found the resource too late; Robin burst into tears and ran from the office before the counsellor could initiate any conversation. That counsellor was Jean Becker. Now, Robin gets to work with and learn from Jean and, though there is much to do, Robin is extremely motivated to ensure that others don’t have the same isolating experience and that Waterloo is a welcoming space where Indigenous people can thrive.

Robin standing front and centre in a group shot with her Office of Indigenous Relations colleagues.

Above: Robin (front, centre) stands with colleagues of the Office of Indigenous Relations, and the Indigenous Advisor Circle. Jean Becker is shown in green standing on the far left. 

Social Development Studies has, according to Robin, tied into almost every aspect of her work in the Office of Indigenous Relations. SDS helped her understand the systems that Indigenous folks have to live in – the social systems and nuances. On a personal level, SDS helped Robin live in the community outside of the reservation. In SDS, there is emphasis placed on learning about social justice issues and how to tackle them, tying directly to Robin’s work.

I asked Robin what advice she would offer students like herself who may be considering studying at Renison or Waterloo. Her words are encouraging. She would tell them to engage, and not be afraid to connect with other students and to utilize support services offered by faculty and staff. When she was studying, she sometimes wondered “how will this help?”  In retrospect, she now appreciates how these school assignments helped develop her critical thinking skills – which Robin refers to as the “golden tool.”

Robin’s journey through postsecondary education has not always been easy, but she describes her time at Renison as transformational. She came into the program, learned how to think critically and how to ask questions. Not only has she been transformed, but she has also gained the ability to help transform society. 

As part of the Office of Indigenous Relations, Robin works to support the university campus community about Indigenization and Decolonization at Waterloo. The office is a resource for consultation and advice, with the recognition that the overall responsibility rests on the whole of campus. There is a lot of significance that comes with having an Office of Indigenous Relations at Waterloo, Robin explains, it says a lot about the institution, its values, and its desire to make change. She sees so much potential in the platform that the university has; layering an Indigenous lens can impact research, student life, and society at large – truly transformational.

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