My name is Jolene Wilson; the community calls me Jojo. My spirit names are Misko Migizi kwe, Giimiwan Googookoo (Red Eagle Woman, Raining Owl), and I am from the Wolf Clan.
I was very lost for 15 years: I lived on the street, homeless and addicted, estranged from my loved ones and children. Around 2015, a worker brought my 12-year-old daughter to me. I didn’t know I had rights to my kids. The knowledge and kindness I received and realizing I had a chance to be a mom again empowered me to change.
It was tough coming off the streets. CFS wasn’t supportive, and we were struggling financially. My friend recommended that I visit WCWRC to receive hygiene products and help to find a better place. When I arrived, I saw a poster for “Our Mothers Standing Strong,” an empowerment group for women reuniting with their children. And I thought that’s exactly what I needed. The program and the facilitator Lisa Spring really cemented my role as a mom. It was the best thing I’d ever done. From there, it just snowballed.
I found a better place and got a spot in the WE WIL program in 2016. WE WIL was phenomenal because it really opened my eyes and pulled out skills I didn’t know I had. I worked on becoming a better version of myself and got a position as a mentor.
When you heal a woman, you’re healing all of the women around her. Her family, and the community. We heal together.
In 2017, I became Casual Staff, which was huge. Staff! Then they gave me a key to the building, and I was like, they trust me! They really trust me! It was so cool. On June 12, 2017, I received a letter stating I am no longer eligible for Employment and Income Assistance. I did it! I actually did it. This was a pivotal moment. I keep this letter hanging in my office to remind me of who I am and what I am capable of. That’s empowerment.
By 2018, I was working on our gender-based strategy to end homelessness in Winnipeg, Connecting the Circle. I’m so proud of that. I’ve never seen my name in a book. It blows my mind! Now, I’m the Centre’s Knowledge Keeper and the Restoring the Balance Coordinator, a trauma-informed program working to restore the balance between Indigenous ways of thinking and being and today’s systems and societies.
I always say this place gets the best of me because it’s brought out the best in me, and I think that’s a fair trade. That’s my tobacco for West Central medicine! Having lived experience allows for connection. It’s heart work. That’s another way to give my tobacco: making space for participants to feel empowered and like they matter.
West Central took all my impossibilities and paved the way for me to make them possible. This is my family. I can’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else. My biggest wish is that every woman gets the same opportunities I was offered here. In my culture, when you heal a woman, you’re healing all the women around her: her family and the community. We heal together.