Sheena Robinson portrait shot

The importance of seeing yourself in stories: Sheena Robinson

June 15, 2022

Celebrating Indigenous writers at VIU

June is Indigenous History Month, during which we mark the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples across Canada. One of the ways VIU is marking Indigenous History Month is by highlighting the voices and works of some Indigenous writers who are part of our community.

Sheena Robinson graduated from VIU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2018. She is now an interim Indigenous Education Navigator at VIU’s Nanaimo campus. She is a proud urban member of the Haíɫzaqv First Nation from Bella Bella on the central coast of BC. On her mom’s side of the family she is from the hḷ́x̌ʔínúx̌v (killer whale) clan and Norwegian, and on her dad’s side she is Irish and English. Her writing has been published in Incline, Portal, In Our Own Aboriginal Voice 2 and Worth More Standing. In 2019 she made the CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for Identity Dreams. Sheena enjoys writing creatively in several styles including poetry, non-fiction and young adult fiction. She is also working on a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Royal Roads University through distance learning, with a focus on communications and Indigenous methodologies.

How did you get into writing?

I started out by reading tons of books as a child and teenager, which led to the desire to tell my own stories. I took several creative writing classes at Langara College and was encouraged by my classmates and professors to write a book for young adults. I ended up dropping out, however, and didn’t write anything for about 10 years, until I spotted a writing contest for Aboriginal writers of young adult fiction. I spent a month writing three chapters to submit, and though I didn’t win, they asked me to complete the manuscript for further consideration. This was enough to renew my spark, and I applied to VIU and decided to minor in Creative Writing. Under the instruction of the amazing profs and through writing workshops with my peers, I was able to hone my writing skills enough to gain some more confidence. I began submitting my work to various writing contests and have found some success there.

Why is it important to you to see work from other Indigenous writers?

I feel it’s important to see yourself or your story in some of the things you read because it helps affirm your identity. Reading Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson was a game changer for me. In her writing I felt like the characters reflected myself and my family, and the setting gave me the comfort of our traditional territory. It inspired my love of storytelling, and gave me hope that there was a market for Indigenous writers. Now, the market has exploded and I have piles and piles of books by Indigenous authors and poets (I guess I need another bookshelf).

How does it feel to add your voice as an Indigenous writer and achieve the kind of recognition for your work that you have thus far?

I won’t feel that I’ve come close to the same level as other Indigenous writers until I at least get my first book published. I’m currently working on a short piece of dark fiction for an anthology and just trying to get through my degree, but after that I want to focus on writing a book for young adults. I recently read my poem “Roots Anchored” at the Worth More Standing book launch, and it was the first time people were lining up for my autograph afterwards. That experience was both humbling and gratifying. I can’t wait to be reading excerpts from my own book someday soon, even if I have to self-publish it!

tree roots

Roots Anchored

By Sheena Robinson

*As published in Worth More Standing, Caitlyn Press, 2022

In the coastal forest at dusk,

light fades to the hue of usnea lichen.

I sit amongst the ancient lady ferns

as they sing soft lullabies to the young fiddleheads,

their sweet tendrils curled like nautili.

I close my eyes and listen

to the underground conversations

between the trees, words vibrating

along fungal threads, a susurrating network

of mycorrhizal roots anchored

deep in time immemorial.

The shore pines prod the hemlocks:


Do you see her?

Who does she belong to?

I’ve seen her here before.

The cedars claim her.


I press my back against the one

who accepts me, knows my relatives,

drawing strength from her history.

She came here four thousand years ago,

to change the land and the way

the two-legged ones traversed it.

My hands knead at the carpet

beneath me, the green moss true

and porous enough to absorb my energy,

my life force, and the moon blood of women

who sat here before, their hands anything

but idle as they waited for the hunters to return.


We remember, too. Her ancestors

sat here weaving spruce roots and telling stories.


The stories are still here, lying

in layers of detritus on the forest floor,

feeding old relatives, resisting

decay and the weight of oppression.

My ancestors hold me up to the light,

like nurse logs cradling new growth.

Has it already been seven generations

or can I rest here for good, back against

a bark strip scar, healing yet proud.


Does she know?

Not yet. Let her sit a little longer,

but not long enough to turn to stone.


The alders watch with their many eyes

as the rain starts to fall and the earth lets

loose a long sigh and I inhale her lucid petrichor.

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