THERE’S GOING to be some sore feet in Eastmain this summer after Chief Kenneth Gilpin, his wife Sally and four other residents finish a 705-kilometre walkathon to raise $1 million for an arena and community centre.
The fearless group plans to head off from Val d’Or on July 19 and march due north all the way home to Eastmain.
And they plan to do it in 10 days!
“The idea of this walk is we would do it in a traditional manner,” said Gilpin. “My people used to walk all the time before ski-doos and planes. This was natural for them.”
The other walkathoners are youth Renata Wesley and Derek Mayappo, Christine Moses and Dennis Cheezo. Dennis has diabetes and was eager to take part to prove that diabetics can still lead an active life, said Chief Gilpin.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement guarantees youth facilities to each Cree community, but Eastmain has been unable to get the government to cough up the cash for nine years.
Finally, Chief Gilpin said enough’s enough. He lined up $1 million from the Board of Compensation and is asking for another $2 million each from Quebec and Ottawa. He hopes the walkathon and other events will convince individuals and organizations in the Cree communities and towns like Val d’Or to put up the remaining $1 million of the total $6-million cost.
Besides an arena, the new building will have a stage, a youth centre and an area where Elders can gather and tell stories.
Gilpin hopes the fundraising walk will embarass government bureaucrats into finally keeping their promises.
“It’s a shame when you have to enter into negotiations on something that was agreed to back in 1975. Here we’re trying to prove that whatever we receive, we’ve earned it.”
The whole community wants to be part of the campaign, said the chief. “When I first mentioned it, 30 or 40 people said they wanted to come. But we thought it would be more effective this way.”
To kick off the walkathon, a busload of Eastmain residents will travel to Val d’Or to hold a day of traditional activities, games and cooking, following by a “dancing bash.”
Also this summer, Eastmain’s renowned square dancers will help raise more funds with a bus tour of the Cree communities and nearby towns.
Meanwhile, the walkathon promises to be only the beginning of a fitness craze now gripping Eastmain. “If we succeed, we will paddle… Then we can snowshoe,” he said.
Gilpin is already talking about a canoe voyage along a traditional route from Mistissini to Eastmain the next summer, and another one the next winter.
The walkers are getting ready for the big day by going for strolls on the highway and psyching themselves up mentally. “The Elders gave us a suggestion for how to do it spiritually. You have to believe yourself you can do it, no matter how long it is.”