Local woman spends time doing good in community
With National Aboriginal Day coming up on Friday, it is a good time to look around Lac La Biche and appreciate all the local elders who make a difference in the community every day. One such venerated elder is Emma Rayko.
Born in Goodfish Lake, Emma was one of seven siblings, and Cree was her mother tongue, that is, until she was forced into a residential school north of St. Albert.
“And then everything changed,” she said, sorrow plain in her voice.
As it turned out though, nothing could erase Emma’s love of her people and her culture and she grew up, despite her surroundings, with the tenets of Aboriginal beliefs firmly rooted in her heart.
“We believe in love, faith, wisdom and honour,” Emma said. “We believe that everything has a spirit. We believe in the round dance, and dancing with the spirit. Life is beautiful, itself.”
It is the teaching of respect—self-respect and respect for others—that Emma most exemplifies. In a modern world where it seems that respect for life—the spirit that lives in everything—is dangerously dwindling, Emma’s civic-minded actions speak even louder than her sage words.
“Don’t worry about yourself,” she said. “You worry about respecting your neighbours, as they respect you. If you have respect, you’ll get along with everybody.”
MAKING LAC LA BICHE HOME
When Emma Rayko and her husband were on vacation in Lac La Biche in 1963, her husband, a prairie boy from Lethbridge, immediately fell in love with the area. He looked at her and said, “You know what? This is the place we’re going to raise our children.”
Fifty years later, Emma is a beacon in the community, volunteering hundreds of hours over the years to various organizations. And while it is her tireless efforts that have earned her the respect of those who know her work, it is her kind heart and her compassionate ear that has won her a soft spot in their hearts. Mother of eight, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of nine, Emma has always found time for her family and her community.
When asked to list the ways Emma has improved the lives of people in Lac La Biche, her best friend Lester Whitford said dryly, “You got all day?”
Monica Smith, another friend, with whom Emma has worked on many volunteer projects, said the same.
“She’s so vibrantly active in the community,” Smith said. “The smaller list is what she hasn’t done.”
Active in elders programs, youth programs, education and awareness groups, Emma is always available to lend a hand.
“It just seems like Emma is always there,” Smith said.
Emma’s volunteering days started in 1986 when she decided to help out at Pow Wow Days, working the gates her first year. Then she started volunteering for fundraising club bingos, and ended up volunteering for the Lac La Biche Bingo Association from the time it opened.She has volunteered for various rehab and detox centres around the area, and spent three years volunteering for the Food Bank.
Karen Lewiski, a fellow bingo volunteer said, “She loves it. She’s a very organized person – she’s the person you call when you want to get something done. And she’s so easy to talk to; she has great counselling skills. Young and old, they feel like they can talk to her.”
Seemingly everywhere in the community, Emma was recognized last June at a J. A Williams High School sports banquet, for her volunteer efforts at their fundraising bingos.
“To fund sports, parents work bingos—but a lot of parents can’t spare the time, so she steps in,” said school business officer, Donna Cadieux.
“She’s invaluable to the sports program. She’s always available. In fact,” Cadieux laughed, “She always phones me a few days before bingo to see if I need anybody, and of course, you get busy and forget, so I’ll say ‘Oh! Thank you! I do need you!’ She keeps our sports program running. She’s such a good-hearted person. She’s one of those people who will do anything for you.”
Though Emma has given years of her life to helping others in the Lac La Biche community, she looks at the time she’s spent as a joy, rather than a chore.
“I love laughing with everyone, talking with everyone,” she said. “Everyone should have a little time to get involved with volunteer work, even an hour a week. I think to myself, I live in this community, this is our community, why don’t I do something to help?”
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