Get to Know: Jodi Robson

Article published at: Jun 19, 2021
Get to Know: Jodi Robson
All Know Her Stories

As a proud Saskatchewan company, our core operations and Head Office are located on Treaty 4 Territory, the original lands of the Cree, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakoda, Lakota, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. We respect and honour the treaties that were made on all territories, and are committed to moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.

This edition of Know Her features Jodi Robson. We spoke with Jodi about her time on the The Great Canadian Baking Show, the beaded statement necklaces she made and wore on the show, and how baking and beading help her represent her personal history, family, and culture. She also spoke to us about the importance of acknowledging and understanding the trauma residential schools have inflicted upon her family members and Indigenous people across the country.  

"Every bake had an element of me in it...I wanted to be as authentic to who I am as I could be while I was there." 

What came first—the beading or the baking?

Baking definitely came first. I started dabbling in the kitchen at a very young age. When my grandmother or mother was preparing food I was just there. And then as soon as you’re old enough to start helping, you’re helping. You can’t be hanging around unless you’re lending a hand. 

Do you have any early memories from that time with your mother or grandmother?

My earliest memory in the kitchen is of my grandmother’s giant red flour bin. We weren’t supposed to touch it because you’d contaminate the flour if you played with it. But everyone wanted to play with it because she had one of those old sifters where you turn the crank and it sifts the flour. My first memory is of getting into the flour bin, making a huge mess, and then hiding under the table because I was worried I was going to get spanked (laughs). She was giving me heck the whole time while I hid and she cleaned up my mess and made supper.

"I’ve gone from being a kid in the kitchen to teaching my kids in the kitchen and it’s very heartwarming."  

Are these hobbies—baking and beading—a kind of homecoming for you? Or a way for you to reconnect, or ground yourself in your Nakoda and Cree heritage?

They are actually. Beadwork has a very long and rich history with Indigenous people prior to contact. And in terms of cooking, when we were children we’d go out during the day with our grandmother, our aunties, or my mom and spend the entire day in the field or bush collecting ingredients. We’d go berry picking, dig for roots, harvest wild mint. We’d bring those ingredients back and create with them. To be able to take my children out now and show them where you get this stuff, and the proper way to do it, is a very important thing for me. I think it honours the heritage of my Cree and Nakoda cultures. It’s exciting to create a fusion there with those ingredients and my baking. 

There isn’t a lot of history with Indigenous people and baking because we were mostly nomadic people, particularly on the plains with the Nakoda and Cree. There aren’t really historical Indigenous ties to baking aside from the ingredients. But that’s also exciting because it creates new opportunities. I can do things that weren’t there before. I can use techniques from other cultures and make a hybrid dish with the ingredients that our people have used traditionally.   

You appeared on season 3 of the Great Canadian Baking Show. You baked a really amazing cake in the first episode with a tempered chocolate tree on top of the number 4. Can you talk a little bit about that cake, the number 4’s relevance to your culture, and what that initial experience was like?  

That was the most exciting bake because I was completely out of my element. You’re around all these people you’ve never baked beside before in a completely new kitchen. It’s intimidating. I’m used to answering questions from my hubby or kids because they’re constantly harassing me in the kitchen. So I had an advantage when the hosts came up and asked me questions while I was panic-baking. The cameras in your face can be quite daunting. But that tree was so exciting to make because I’d only made it once before, and you never know what it’s going to be like to temper chocolate in other areas of the country because sea elevation and humidity can change things so much. So that was scary for me, but I went for it and it worked out, and it was so cool to be able to put a piece of myself out there for the very first bake. We got to choose which number we were doing and I chose 4 because the number 4 is huge for my people. We honour the four directions. The four seasons. Our ceremonies take part in 4 separate elements. It was me getting to introduce myself to everyone. I could say, I’m Indigenous and here’s why this number is so significant to me.  

"I made every piece I wore prior to the episode and so sometimes I didn’t sleep. And then I just gave them away. After each episode I gave them to one of the other bakers as a little memento."  

Did you find it easy to be yourself on the show? Because you seemed to look quite comfortable. Did you feel like that under the surface? 

Yes and no. As far as my attitude and character on the show? That’s me. I’m hyper all the time. I drink a pot of coffee for breakfast and then follow it up with a red bull, so (laughs), that’s just me. The only thing that wasn’t really me on the show was that I don’t bake under time constraints at home. I don’t cook with recipes or measurements, which upsets a lot of bakers. My bannock, for example, is measured by handfuls not cups. People ask for recipes and I’m like, “Hold on I’m going to have to remake this.”

Is that kind of improvisational baking something that you inherited from your grandmother? I remember on the show you talking about how she rarely used measurements. 

So we grew up on the reserve, on Okanese First Nation, and on the reserve you don’t have easy access to grocery stores. If you need something you have to get in the car and drive for it, and that isn’t always a possibility. You have to get really creative with what you have available. We were fortunate in that my grandmother was an incredible gardener. If I needed something it was usually going to be in the yard, and if I wanted to make something with berries I’d just go out into the bush and come back with a pail. We got very good at that creative aspect of baking. I wasn’t going to the store looking for some specific imported ingredient because there just wasn’t access to it growing up.   

"I felt that it was very important to represent First Nations people in everything I did on the show. Particularly Cree and Nakoda because that’s my heritage."

How important to you was it to pay homage to your Nakoda and Cree heritage on the show? In what ways did you do so?

I felt that it was very important to represent First Nations people in everything I did on the show. Particularly Cree and Nakoda because that’s my heritage. I feel I did that with both my appearance and my bakes. Every bake had an element of me in it. Some story and some inspiration. A part of my culture and heritage was always focal. That was really important because I haven’t had the luxury of seeing people like me on baking shows before. We have had a few famous Indigenous chefs coming out of the woodwork in the last couple of years, but it’s very new. I wanted to be as authentic to who I am as I could be while I was there. 

You wore a lot of great, beaded statement necklaces during the bake off that you made yourself. How did it feel to be wearing these creations while working on your bakes? Do you think your jewellery gave you confidence or good luck? 

I absolutely do think there was an element of confidence, and of course luck. Especially since I made it all the way to the finale. I never believed that I could make it that far. We weren’t supposed to wear statement pieces on the show because it would interfere with the mic. I actually argued on that one. I said, “Please, I need to represent myself in some way.” 

There’s a little story behind the beadwork on the show. I had only brought beadwork for the first day because I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I thought, at the very least I’m guaranteed to be on the first episode and I’m going to represent myself as much as possible. After that all the other bakers were like, “Why don’t you make a new piece for every episode and then it’s like a celebration.” Yeah, so I literally did that. I made every piece I wore prior to the episode and so sometimes I didn’t sleep. And then I just gave them away. After each episode I gave them to one of the other bakers as a little memento.  

I always try to wear beadwork in some form if I can. There are a lot of fantastic artisanal beadwork artists who live here on the prairies, and one of the best things is the sense of comfort you get when you see someone who has beadwork on. It’s like “Ok, cool. There’s someone else here like me.” Leaving the reserve, and moving to an urban center when I did, left me feeling shell shocked. So my beadwork is like my little flag to other people. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, Tansi.” It's a comfort thing, and honestly it’s a bit of bragging because it’s like, “Look what I can do.”  

What informs the designs and colours of your necklaces? Are they story-telling vehicles at all?

They definitely are a form of storytelling. I know a lot of beading artists have a template that they follow. I’ve never used a template. When I create I just sit there and look at the felt or leather and then I just start. I’ll grab a colour and it just builds on itself. Sometimes it takes a long time to decide when something is done because I’ll continually add things or take things off. It’s similar to my baking. I’ll add things until it’s the way it needs to be. There are actually a lot of similarities between the two. I can look at any piece I’ve created and tell you the story about what influenced the design because I remember everything about all the pieces. I’m not a mass producer of beadwork. I only make beadwork when I feel inspired. 

Have you turned either of these hobbies into a job? 

Prior to the show, I never created pieces for sale. If I baked or beaded something, I usually gave it away. After the show, I’ve had a lot of people reaching out and saying “Do you sell beadwork? Do you have an Etsy page? Would you make me something?” While that’s very flattering, unfortunately I work full-time and I homeschool my children. I can only do so much. And I don’t intend on opening a bakery in Regina because our market is heavily saturated. There’s a lot of great talent out there. I don’t really have a desire to turn it into a career. I don’t want to lose the love I have for it. People say take your passion and turn it into a career, but I’m worried I’d lose the passion. But maybe one day. 

Has your relationship with baking or beading changed at all during the pandemic?

In the start of the pandemic it was very difficult getting ingredients. You couldn’t find things like yeast or flour anywhere. I did find some local producers of flour in Saskatchewan that I wasn’t aware of before. They’re not available in mainstream stores, but you can find them in local markets and farmers markets. I noticed a big difference using that flour with sourdough. The artisanal local flour bakes a denser loaf but it’s so much more flavourful. I highly recommend it. 

For beading I had more time so I was able to make more pieces, which was nice. For some of the people that did reach out, I was able to be like, “Hey, I have this.” It was nice to have some extra time to focus and improve on something I do for fun. 

I also got to bake with my kids a lot more because they’re normally in school. Since they’ve been homeschooling we could just take a break and create some baking together. They’ve influenced flavours and new designs, and I’ve been able to teach them the basics. I didn’t have the time for that before. 

"The most important thing about all of this is that we need to have an understanding for each other, and we have to be more accepting of others’ struggles because we don’t know."

That must have been pretty cool to be able to give your kids a similar experience to your own growing up and helping out in the kitchen.

At the end of the day, reflecting with a cup of tea, I did get emotional several times because it’s like, “Wow, I’ve come full circle.” I’ve gone from being a kid in the kitchen to teaching my kids in the kitchen and it’s very heartwarming.  

There has been some heartbreaking news in this country recently—revelations of the horrific realities of residential schools in B.C. How are you doing? How do you mourn something like this? How do you support yourself and your family when coming to terms with news like this?

Well, for me it’s not news. I understand that for a lot of people who aren’t fully aware of residential schools in Canada and their histories, it’s shocking news. And for some people it’s not shocking and they’re saying, “Well we knew about this already.” For me, that coming to light, it’s a reminder of a lot of pain. I’m the first generation in my family that didn’t have to go to residential schools. Both of my parents went. Both of their parents went. I could have gone because the residential school in our territory only closed in 1996. I was fortunate because my mom and my dad—having gone through the schools and suffering as a result of their time there—were able to make the decision to not let us go. Their parents didn’t have that option. And their parents before them didn’t have that option; it was forced upon them. That news hit my family really hard because it brought up a lot of memories that they had pushed down. I don’t think that pain and that terror ever truly leaves you. And I know there is an intergenerational traumatic effect because you see the impact on children that never attended the schools. In our family we’re lucky we have our cultural ceremonies and we’re able to sit down and do things like smudge and talk openly and let that stuff out so we don’t have to hold it in. 

I think it hit a lot of people across the country very hard and as always there is a dismissive approach to it by a lot of people. You always get people saying, “Could you get over it?” That’s a very hard thing to ask of anybody. I’m glad that it came to light though, and that it was brought forward so now the whole country knows as opposed to just those who are exposed to Indigenous peoples. Nothing is going to change the past. But it needs to be acknowledged, and then we have to look at policy change and our own mental biases against each other and go from there. We should never live in a world where something like that could occur again. There has to be some level of understanding amongst each other. For example, if I see somebody on the street struggling with addiction, I don’t look down upon them because I don’t know their story. I don’t know what has driven them to that point. The most important thing about all of this is that we need to have an understanding for each other, and we have to be more accepting of others’ struggles because we don’t know. 

It feels like we’re close to getting to the other side of a really hard pandemic. What are you most looking forward to as things begin to reopen again?

Socializing. Oh my goodness do I miss people! Normally I work in customer service at the Casino in Regina, and there were some nights I said, “I’m so done with people!” I regret ever saying that. I also have a ton of shoes I want to show off so I can’t wait to go out and be like, “Look at these.” 

At work people would just sit down at the table and just tell me stories, and I loved just listening to other people’s stories because it’s cool to see how other people see things. I also miss sitting outside and having a bonfire with friends. 

I imagine one of the joys of being a really good baker would be sharing your bakes with a bunch of other people and seeing how they react to them. 

The best place I’ve ever taken baking is my husband’s wrestling shows. No matter how bad the baking is, you put an entire tray of (basically anything) in front of wrestlers, they’re going to eat everything in minutes, which is a huge ego boost.

Writing: Carter Selinger