This weekend displayed the true power of volunteers

The August civic holiday weekend on Manitoulin is traditionally the busiest weekend of the summer, with commerce across the Island in full swing and employee rosters stretched to the maximum. You have to make hay while the sun shines, and Haweater Weekend and the advent of the Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival are certainly the shining sun of the the tourist season on Manitoulin.

Returning Island expats raise the boats of commerce in all Island communities this weekend, from the corner store in the most remote Island community to the relatively bustling commercial hubs of Little Current, Wiikwemkoong and Mindemoya, everyone seems to be going flat out on this busiest of times.

But neither the Little Current Lions Haweater Weekend in Little Current, with its impressive fireworks finale, or the Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival with its performers and tourists drawn from all four corners of the globe, could be possible without the dedicated army of volunteers that give up their own holiday time to ensure that those events are a stellar success each and every year.

Lions Club members in their distinctive purple and gold vests can be seen scurrying from event to event throughout the weekend as they fulfill their scheduled commitments, and for the annual Hawfest dance it is largely all hands on deck, but added to those stalwart folks are numerous community members who step up each year to throw their shoulders to the wheel, sometimes quite literally.

In Wiikwemkoong the Wikwemikong Heritage Organization has been working diligently to marshal that community’s volunteer spirit into an organizational force that would be the envy of communities many times their size.

The Wiikwemkoong event has morphed from those first tenuous steps taken out and onto the dance arena back in 1961 as ‘Wikwemikong Indian Days,’ encouraged and nurtured by visionaries such as the late Rosemary Odjig as a way to revitalize the powwow, into the major force for education and reconciliation it is today.

None of this could happen without the largely unsung and behind the scenes efforts of an army of volunteers.

Moreover, events such as the Miss Manitoulin pageant, which draws its contestants from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to select each year’s Island ambassador, and the welcoming atmosphere of Manitoulin’s powwows (both of the cultural festival variety and the traditional celebrations of welcome hosted by each community every year) draw all of us together in a unified expression of pride. It is upon these kinds of events, events which draw our communities closer together rather than apart and celebrate our commonality as well as our differences.

If there is one facet of our communities that is mirrored in the other, it is the wealth of community and volunteer spirit from whose well we draw upon so deeply at this time of the year.

There are other times we can see these virtues come to the fore, witness the community efforts that respond to local disasters such as the microburst experienced on the Island in the not so distant past. For both communities, that of the descendants of those ancient Indigenous hosts who shared this land with non-Indigenous newcomers who settled here, are imbued with a spirit that binds us together as Islanders even as the world seems bent on driving us apart.

At the end of the day, we are all Islanders and we have every right to be proud of that and all that we accomplish every year.

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