A non-profit group dedicated to ending the violence in North Central is parting ways with one of its founding members, as White Pony Lodge takes away the paid position of executive director from Shawna Oochoo.
Oochoo first started North Central End the Violence in April 2016 after organizing vigils for several murder victims in the area.
The grassroots organization became known as White Pony Lodge and eventually started volunteer patrols on weekend evenings modelled after the mandate of White Bear Clan in Winnipeg. The non-profit group has expanded over time to organize needle pick-up drives and run various other programs to address the social issues within the community.
Heather Griffiths is a current board member with White Pony Lodge and explained the group is run by volunteers and the decision was made to terminate the paid position of executive director because there wasn’t enough money.
Oochoo was initially paid as part of a youth gang exit pilot program which has now ended.
According to Griffiths, the board recognized the amount of work that was needed to be done to maintain day to day operations and Oochoo was offered an informal paid position as executive director in February with the hope they could find money to pay her.
“There was never a formal employment agreement drawn up and signed, and it was all with the clear understanding that it was contingent on our ability to secure funding,” Griffiths said in a recent phone interview with 980 CJME.
“When that did not materialize, we unfortunately had no choice but to make the most responsible financial decision that we could and that means we cannot afford to have a paid executive director.”
When asked if Oochoo could continue to work with the group in a volunteer capacity, Griffiths said that had not been raised at the time. She said she understands the surprise and how the community has come to respect and value the work Oochoo has done.
“However, in terms of Shawna being a representative on an ongoing basis, there are issues that will remain confidential, there were certain conflict of interest issues that the board did address, and I guess moving forward there would have to be some discussion around the ways in which Shawna could continue to work with White Pony Lodge as a volunteer,” Griffiths said.
When asked to clarify, Griffith declined to comment any further on the conflict of interest issues.
In a brief phone call with 980 CJME last week, Oochoo said she would be releasing a statement at a later time, but did not respond to follow up requests for comment.
On her public Facebook profile she posted that she was greatly saddened and disheartened by the decision, but also expressed her appreciation for supportive emails since she made it public.
“At this time, we all must remember that White Pony Lodge was born out of the hearts of our community. White Pony Lodge was gifted to our community through ceremony by our ancestors and blessed by our elders. White Pony Lodge was intended long before it became a corporate entity. The White Pony Lodge Spirit is powerful and strong, and for two years, I had the honour and privilege of walking with it. Regardless of how or why the decision was made, I lift prayers that the spirit of White Pony Lodge remains strong and carries on,” she wrote on Facebook on Thursday.