The arduous journey of the Nishiyuu Walkers may be complete, but their demand for unity and a new relationship between the federal government and aboriginal people is only getting louder, native leaders said Monday.
Seven men, including a guide, left the Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Que., on Jan. 16, and walked nearly 1,600 kilometres from Hudson Bay to Parliament Hill, where they were greeted by throngs of enthusiastic supporters, some of whom had joined the walk.
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The Portage Bridge was completely closed to vehicle traffic just before noon as the marchers made their way from Gatineau to Victoria Island.
Many carried walking sticks and wore off-white hooded jackets as they gathered around a fire pit to give thanks to the creator, Mother Earth and the Algonquins who welcomed them onto their traditional territory.
They later arrived on Parliament Hill, where native leaders and politicians alike commended the original seven walkers for their perseverance.
“Your journey has shown us strength, it has shown that the aboriginal youth of this country can use their energies in a positive way,” said Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.
The walkers, whose Journey of the Nishiyuu Facebook page has more than 33,000 members, have inspired Canadians from “coast to coast to coast,” he said.
“You have accomplished much more than you thought when you began your walk.”
Coon Come highlighted many of the challenges facing aboriginals today, from unacceptable living conditions to constant threats to their lands, culture and heritage.
But social harmony with the rest of Canada is possible, he urged.
“There is a choice to be made in this country: We can now continue to follow a path of exclusion which will only lead to further conflict and social turmoil, or we can embark on a path of inclusion in which aboriginal rights and aboriginal cultures are embraced as a unique part of the fabric of this country.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo turned and spoke in Cree to the walkers gathered on the steps below the Peace Tower before addressing the crowd.