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  • Grandmother Irene Compton

  • Cherie Wong

  • Jennisha Wilson

Gamechangers Q&A

Event Summary

Time and time again, we are blown away by the experts who come speak at our events and our most recent AWA – meant to shine a light on our panelists individually – was no exception. Despite the ongoing virtual format, the discussion led by Elder Irene Compton, Cherie Wong and Jennisha Wilson was nothing short of remarkable as they opened up about life experiences, working towards systemic change, decolonization, the highs and the lows of activism, building bridges, and more. As always, we are deeply humbled and moved by the wisdom and resilience that abounds in our very own city.


By doing a smudging and dedicating a prayer, Grandmother Irene Compton (co-founder of Minwaashin Lodge) opened the event which was held on May 5th, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Gender diverse people. She explained the significance of the medicine wheel, which portrays the various stages of Indigenous spirituality throughout a person’s life and their connection to Mother Earth and our ancestors.


Jennisha Wilson has worked at Tungasuvvingat Inuit for five years combatting human trafficking, doing anti-racism and VAW work and will now be joining the anti-racism response team at University of Waterloo.


Cherie Wong is the Executive Director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, which fights for human rights (universal suffrage and democratic institutions) of Hong Kongers. Cherie does this work while acknowledging her role as a settler on Indigenous lands in Ottawa.

Jennisha Wilson was asked how her Indo-Afro-Jamaican background informs her allyship and helps her in her social justice work. She explained that her parents instilled in her respect for others and a passion for social justice. She highlights her own experiences of colonialism in her community as well as personal experiences of racism and discrimination inform how she wants to work towards reconciliation between settler and Indigenous communities.


Jennisha was asked what positive outcomes she has seen in equity, diversity and inclusion in Ottawa and Canada. She confirmed that BIPOC have been advocating for these things for a long time and laying the groundwork for activism, including efforts like priority hiring and anti-VAW work. More needs to be done to give BIPOC community members a seat at the table of decision-making power. Jennisha feels that the needs of the communities she aims to serve need to be reflected in the relationships and decisions of these organizations. Forming partnerships with Indigenous organizations and using appropriate language are part of trust-building and decolonization, in her view.


Elder Irene Compton was asked to provide any guidance as to how to navigate this global pandemic. Grandmother Irene says that crises such as the one we are living in now can generate positive change simply by supporting us to pause and reflect on what is important, namely nurturing family and community relationships. Further, using one’s voice to express creativity and one’s own reality is a very important skill.. Grandmother Irene also shared her view that everyone has gifts that they can share with their community. Grandmother Irene has been working with


Indigenous women for a generation at Minwaashin Lodge, helping them heal from trauma and find their voice.


Grandmother Irene was asked what qualities she brings as a leader in the Ottawa community and how she sees her role in shaping the community positively. She considers herself a gentle and balanced leader. Her gifts in leadership come from her ancestors and she comes from a family and clan of creative people. In her work at Minwaashin Lodge, she supports women who have experienced trauma and whose spirits need nurturing to become survivors and advocates for themselves, despite the trauma they have faced through state violence. Grandmother Irene also highlighted the barriers that she faced in trying to help these women. She however persevered and found her voice.


Cherie Wong, the founder of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, was asked what her biggest challenges were in founding the organization and what positives came out of that.

Cherie advocates for Hong Kongers’ human rights in the face of continued violence and oppression by the PRC, particularly sexual and gender-based violence experienced by women protesters in Hong Kong. Alliance Canada is a community focused organization that promotes healing these wounds and meeting the needs of the local Ottawa community as well. Using her experience as a settler in Canada helps her to advocate for policy change in Hong Kong. She feels that there needs to be a delicate balance between serving both communities while addressing colonialization in the Canadian context.


In response to the question of how COVID has impacted activism, Cherie notes that institutionalized systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, and transphobia are global barriers to social justice, and COVID has made that painfully apparent, with unequal vaccine distribution for instance. Cherie explained that dismantling systems of oppression starts with the individual, namely addressing biases and lateral violence in her community to empower people and move away from oppression and towards justice through self-care and community care.


Thank you for supporting our space – until next time, Ottawa!

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