AUNDECK OMNI KANING—A recent telephone call from the president of Sault College alumni took Darren Madahbee completely by surprise.
“He told me that they were going through the graduates from the social work program at the college and that they thought I would make a fantastic candidate for an Ontario Premier’s Award,” said Mr. Madahbee, who works for the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation in the mental health and addictions field. Shortly after that telephone call, Mr. Madahbee received confirmation that he was being awarded a 2016 Ontario Premier’s Award for Social Development. Mr. Madahbee, who is no stranger to being thrown (he founded a number of local ju-jitsu clubs for Manitoulin residents in communities across the Island), found himself stunned by the news. “I almost fell off my chair,” he said.
“In high school I would have been voted the most likely to not succeed,” he laughed. “I was headed nowhere really fast. I really didn’t like myself. If I had stayed on that path, I would be six feet under a long time ago.”
While he was raised by a single mother, Mr. Madahbee does not see that as why he was struggling with his issues.
“I was really lucky, I had some very important mentors appear in my life,” he said. “They seemed to appear just when I needed them the most.”
Mr. Madahbee cited “my uncle Pat (UOI Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee) was always there for me and wasn’t afraid to give me a good kick in the butt,” he said. “At the same time, he was always positive, gave me options, but he always gave it to me straight.”
A well-known local drummer (of the rock and roll variety), Mr. Madahbee recalled the late Chris Tilson as an important mentor and martial arts fellow traveller. “We studied karate together and he helped get me into music actually. That was 19 years ago now, time flies.”
Another positive influence and mentor was Brazilian Jujitsu’s Israel Segora.
Asked what it was that acted as a catalyst to turn his direction around, Mr. Madahbee did not hesitate for an instant. “My oldest son coming into the world,” he said. “I wanted to be here for him and to be someone he could be proud of. I didn’t want to be nobody.”
Mr. Madahbee set about changing himself into that person he wanted to be, looking to the people in his life he knew and respected as models.
“I went back to school and I really haven’t stopped going since,” he said. He has completed studies at the University of Toronto, Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie and then there is the constant parade of skills development courses and workshops that travel through his life.
Another development that has kept him on his toes was his appointment as the first aboriginal member of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). “I am on the development committee,” he said. “I have studied so many rules and regulations, I feel like I am just about qualified to be a judge.”
The OCSWSSW gig has not been a completely smooth ride, he admitted. “I have butted heads,” he said of running into preconceptions and perceptions that had to be overcome and the need to explain the considerable differences between indigenous and main stream culture and practices. “But you don’t give up,” he said. “You never give up and you keep pushing for the changes that need to be put in place.”
Mr. Madahbee has developed sharing circles for the UCCM Tribal Police and OPP, established jujitsu classes (open to everyone) in Wikwemikong, Aundeck Omni Kaning, Birch Island, Sheguiandah and Sheshegwaning. “We have students from Little Current, Gore Bay and Mindemoya,” he said. “It’s wide open.”
The classes help act as a tremendous bridge between communities. “We have each other’s back,” said Mr. Madahbee, who hopes those bridges can help with the reconciliation between peoples.
Mr. Madahbee still finds time in his busy schedule to play music, “hard rock, heavy metal and blues mostly” and he has a new project on the go that he hopes will be a big hit. “Bubble soccer is coming soon to Aundeck Omni Kaning,” he said.
“People can turn their lives around,” said Mr. Madahbee. “If you believe in people, like people believed in me, then it can happen.”