Jo-Anne Thibodeau-Audette volunteers her time because she’s making a difference

Jo-Anne Thibodeau-Audette

AUNDECK OMNI KANING––Outrage quickly spread across Canada following the February 22, 2018 not-guilty verdict in the second-degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier for the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee urged all Anishinabek citizens to participate in rallies and vigils around the territory.

Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) resident Jo-Anne Thibodeau-Audette heeded the call and promptly organized a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine. “We wanted to show that Manitoulin Island was in solidarity with Tina Fontaine’s family,” said Ms. Thibodeau-Audette, “and with all the other missing and murdered aboriginal youth. The justice system is failing us and we need to see some positive changes.” The impromptu walk attracted Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters.

“We must stand up for ourselves,” Ms. Thibodeau-Audette asserted. “Somebody’s got to start.”

Ms. Thibodeau-Audette began volunteering at a very young age. She became a candy striper for the Manitoulin Centennial Manor when she was 12, a job she carried on at the Manitoulin Health Centre for another two years.  Since then she has volunteered for AOK’s community powwow, the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life, Manitoulin Country Fest, all AOK community events, Mnidoo Mnising Area Management Board, the Ontario Native Women’s Association, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the education and housing department in AOK, and Little NHL. “There are so many places that I have volunteered,” she said. “I have lost track over time.  But it’s because I love to volunteer. I am always prepared to help anytime I am asked.”

It was her mother, Linda Thibodeau, who got Ms. Thibodeau-Audette started on her volunteering trail.  “My mom started Waibejawong Anishnabequek in the early 1970s to help Indigenous women who faced discrimination and were ostracized from their First Nations because they married non-Indigenous men,” she explained. “I remember at a young age the numerous women and families who came through our door in Little Current to receive help from my mom.  She would always have food available, extra clothing, extra bedding, and even a few dollars to help those in need.  My mother really did give them the clothing off her back, and her last dollar to help those who were struggling. My mother also volunteered as a foster mother for the Children’s Aid Society. I remember many children coming to live with us.  My mom always made sure we all helped out any way we could.  She was the president for the Little Current Lioness Club as well.  So it’s because of my mother why I choose to volunteer and it’s why I understand how important volunteering is.”

Waibejawong Anishnabequek continues on through Ms. Thibodeau-Audette. “We carry on the same vision and goals my mom envisioned,” she said. “Any time a women is in need we do whatever we can to offer supports or assistance to try and make their lives a little less of a struggle.  We also ensure that we keep active and up to date with remembering Indigenous women who we have lost to senseless violence and racial discrimination.”  

Ms. Thibodeau-Audette believes the best way to help your community is to volunteer. “Our communities are struggling to find that connection that we used to have,” she said. “The best way to connect is to volunteer, to get out there and participate.  The reward is knowing that you may have helped make someone feel special or made someone’s life a little better or a little bit easier.  Anyone who wants to volunteer can connect with organizations such as Waibejawong Anishnabequek.  We are just a small group of women from Aundeck Omni Kaning and area who simply want to help where we can.”

Ms. Thibodeau-Audette hasn’t formally received any individual volunteer recognition awards but, she said, “We do not do it for the recognition. We do it because it makes us feel good to know that we are helping those around us. We do it because what we’re doing is making a difference.”