Ingrid Mahdahbee believes in fostering a strong sense of community

Ingrid and Duke Madahbee beside their take-out stand in Aundeck Omni Kaning.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – Small communities depend on their volunteers to help improve the quality of life of their residents and making Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation a great place to live lies in the forefront of Ingrid Madahbee’s motivation for her volunteer work.

“I don’t do as much as I used to,” claims Ms. Madahbee. If that’s the case, in her heyday Ms. Madahbee must have been a virtual whirlwind of activity, as she still steps up whenever she is approached to put her shoulder to the wheel of a worthy community cause.

“Different people ask me to arrange fundraisers to help out families who need assistance,” admitted Ms. Madahbee. ‘No,’ doesn’t seem to be in her dictionary when it comes to helping out.

“We have a mini-lotto that makes about $1,000 for their projects,” said Ms. Madahbee. “It brings in about $1,000 for the cause and pays out around $1,000.”

Those causes often arise from medical emergencies and health issues. “When a family member needs help with something like travel costs because they have to travel off-Island for medical appointments,” said Ms. Madahbee of the kind of thing that can trigger the effort. “With so many cutbacks, there are a lot of expenses that aren’t covered, especially for family members to go with them.” All it takes is some time and some tickets to make all the difference, she notes.

“If someone needs a headstone for a family member, we just helped with one, things like that,” she said.

Then there is the annual (pre-pandemic) pilgrimage to the Little NHL, the seminal hockey tournament for Indigenous youth that has become increasingly challenging for some families to send their children to due to it now being held in large southern Ontario communities. “It’s important to the health of the community to encourage healthy living in our children,” she said. “Kids spend too much time sitting in front of a screen these days, they need to get out in the fresh air and get some exercise if they are going to lead healthy lives.”

But it isn’t all sitting back and letting it happen. Ms. Madahbee is a strong believer in helping others to help themselves. “It’s not just sitting back and getting money,” she said. “The families have to put up some effort themselves.”

With the advent of the pandemic, Little NHL is on hiatus, but the needs in the community have not abated, if anything, they have increased.

“We put together food boxes for the community,” said Ms. Madahbee. “In a small community you know everybody and everybody knows you. A community needs to be self-reliant. If we volunteer our time, be part of the community, we create a community that is better for everyone. You have to put your community first.”

Volunteering is its own reward, notes Ms. Madahbee. “I think people would enjoy it. I know that the people I work with on projects have a lot of fun while we are doing it.”

Many hands make light work, but they often have a great time doing it. Ms. Madahbee noted that her husband Duke (a well-known member of the Little Current Fish and Game Club too) is often by her side, helping out in the community as well. The couple operates a popular fish and chip trailer in the community that takes up a lot of their time, but they still manage to volunteer. “I plan to take a bit of time away from the stand this season,” said Ms. Madahbee, noting it’s time for younger hands to take a turn. “I have a lot of younger family members,” she laughs.

“It isn’t all fun, though,” said Ms. Madahbee, using the example of distributing gift cards to the community. “A lot of the time there are rules involved that you don’t have any control over. Sometimes you have to say no, and that isn’t easy, but it isn’t up to us to make those decisions.”

Chief and council are part of that decision making process, she notes, “they put together the letters.”

Still, volunteering in the community is something Ms. Madahbee said she would recommend to anyone.