AOK social worker first Native member of executive committee

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—The executive council of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers elected its first Anishnaabe member recently, appointing Darren Madahbee to the board that oversees the social work profession in Ontario.

“Crazy eh? I was also the first Native to be even nominated,” said Mr. Madahbee, who works as a social service worker for the Naandwehgiigamik Health Centre in Aundeck Omni Kaning. “I even had to buy myself a suit,” he quipped. But when it comes to the work of the executive council, Mr. Madahbee quickly turned serious.

He explained that the college develops policy to ensure the safety of the public within the social work profession.

The route to sitting on the executive council was an interesting combination of dedication and serendipity, but Mr. Madahbee at first thought he had ended his social work career before it had even started.

He was attending his first meeting of the college in North Bay as a recent graduate. “I arrived quite a bit early, it is a habit of mine,” he recalled. “There was this elderly lady sitting by herself in the back. She was dressed kind of like she was ready to go to the bingo. I thought she had just come to drop somebody off.”

Feeling a little bit like a fish out of water in the room packed with be-suited social workers deep in animated conversation, Mr. Madahbee struck up a conversation with the elderly woman. “She was this tiny Jewish lady originally from Israel,” he recalled. “She asked me about myself and I guess I thought, ‘Oh well, I will probably never see here her again,’ so I just let it all out.” He spoke of his own struggles with substance abuse, told her about his early battles with alcohol and what it was like to grow up in a single parent family. “I didn’t hold anything back,” he said ruefully.

A few moments later, when everyone had settled into his or her seat and the formal meeting began, Mr. Madahbee made a shocking discovery. “They asked for the president to come forward,” he said. As you might have guessed at this point, the nice lady to whom he had opened up his soul made her way to the podium.

“I thought I had blown my career as a social worker before it had even started,” he laughed.

But apparently his candor had not been misplaced.

A short time later an invitation to apply to the council arrived and Mr. Madahbee indicated that he was interested. “They whittled it down and had an election,” he said. Mr. Madahbee was chosen as the winning candidate and found himself appointed to the council.

The council is the 21-member governing body and board of directors that manages and administers college affairs. The council is composed of seven social workers who are members of the college and who are elected by the members of the college in accordance with the bylaws; seven social service workers who are members of the college and who are elected by the members of the college in accordance with the bylaws; and seven persons who are appointed by the Ontario Government.

According to the college’s website, the college’s primary duty is to serve and protect the public interest while promoting high standards of practice for the professions. At the same time the college “encourages a robust interactive relationship with members, stakeholders and the public. To steer and guide these processes, council’s primary governance function is policy development. The policies developed by council provide direction to the college and to staff.”

Mr. Madahbee’s first action as a council member is to inaugurate a cultural awareness program that will be part of every college and university course of study in the province—to start. “I am in conversations to see about setting it up in Quebec as well.”

Mr. Madahbee, RSSW, is a Mental Health Community Worker for the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation Health Centre. Educated in social service work and psychology that incorporates Anishinabek culture, he is also an expert in suicide intervention and prevention. Mr. Madahbee is licenced with LivingWorks and is a SafeTALK trainer/instructor.

Mr. Madahbee enjoys and frequently gives back to his community through coaching and mentoring children and fundraising. Additionally, he runs and operates a Brazilian jiu-jitsu club and was a coach and competitor in archery for Team Ontario at the North American Aboriginal Games.