Shauna Bear donated blood for the first time at a clinic in Saskatoon on Tuesday. ((CBC))

Vanloads of employees from the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority visited a blood donor clinic Tuesday in Saskatoon, responding to a call for blood and possible bone marrow.

The volunteers were responding to a challenge by a young Manitoba woman, Chantelle Chornoby, 20, who was diagnosed with leukemia but who could not find a donor because so few aboriginal donors were registered in Canada's bone marrow registry. 

There are currently at least five aboriginal patients across Canada hoping to find a compatible bone marrow donor.

Chornoby, from the War Lake First Nation, near Ilford, Man., last year launched "Chantelle's Promise," a campaign to encourage people to register as being willing to donate bone marrow, the soft tissue found in the centre of bones.

Lillian Denton, the gaming authority's director of employee health and wellness, said the mass blood drive and cell registry is an effort to encourage more aboriginal people to become involved in the program.

1 per cent on registry of aboriginal descent

Canada's bone marrow donor registry matches volunteers who are willing to donate their bone marrow to people who need it to treat life-threatening illnesses. About one per cent of the people on the registry are of aboriginal descent, officials say.

Bone marrow manufactures blood cells, including red blood cells to carry oxygen, white ones for fighting infection, and platelets that help stop bleeding. It can be affected by illnesses such as leukemia, anemia and immune or metabolic disorders.

"Maybe somebody in this group would be her unrelated … life donor, said Denton. "And if not, you know, they're here for somebody else too."

Potential donors must be between 17 and 50 years old and meet certain health criteria.

Joining the registry does not mean a person would be called on to donate right away — or ever, Canadian Blood Services notes. Volunteers are entered into a database that is searched when a patient requires donor marrow.