photo by Ernest Webb
I joined the Journey of Nishiyuu in Kitigan Zibi, the Algonquin community near to Maniwaki, Quebec, on March 21.
I made my way to the community centre, where most of the walkers were being served breakfast. What struck me about the walkers as I entered the centre was how young many of them were. It seemed that a new generation was now taking responsibility for the future and doing something about it.
I could tell who had been on the walk since James Bay by how worn and soiled their signature white tunics were. The white tunic is based on a design that people wore long ago and most of the walkers were sporting them. Most of the tunics were made by mothers, aunties and grandmothers in a mad rush as the walkers joined; some had tunics sent to them as they made their way to Ottawa.
Many of the walkers were vets of earlier walks that started a few years ago in Eeyou Istchee and their biggest complaint was how hard it was to walk on pavement.
The journey added about 30 walkers in Kitigan Zibi, bringing the total to nearly 300.
Many knew the hardships of the journey while others had yet to learn of the pain on the feet, ankles and knees that each step brought. The people I spoke with said the pain was a small price to pay compared to what they were walking for.
The new friendships that developed could be seen as they talked and laughed their way through breakfast. A lot of them expressed regret that the journey would soon be over and they would have to leave their new family.
The ones with the crisp new tunics did not know what lay ahead, but they tackled the challenge with smiles and laughter.
Pearl Bosum, Oujé-Bougoumou
I felt pumped when I first started. The first few days were really tiring. I was really tired. It was fun though. There are a lot of things I’ve been learning as I walked. Going to other reserves I learned a lot of things and I learned languages too. I will remember the singing and dancing, the pow wow. We were welcomed in each territory and I’m thankful for the hospitality we were shown. The places where we stayed and suppers we were invited to.
I’m excited. Yesterday when I got here I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t know how the group was. Everyone is so nice and friendly it already feels like family. These people from Oujé they helped me so much, they encouraged me to join. I wasn’t very sure at first. I’ve been watching them for a long time and I’ve wanted to join the walkers, but I couldn’t because I was working. Since I got the week off I decided why not. While I have the time, there’s no excuse not to. I’m mostly here to encourage the young people who are walking. I’m walking for the young kids who are not able to walk. I have a son and I’m mostly walking for him so that he can walk in his own land as he pleases when he grows up. I’m like his feet right now.
Amy Mianscum, Oujé-Bougoumou
I like meeting new people and especially my (white) coat. I love it. I was scared and nervous, but in a happy mood.
Johnny Mianscum, Oujé-Bougoumou
I’m trying to help anybody on the journey and trying to get the message across, especially for unity among nations. I was excited when I left home, then I got here and now I’m ecstatic. We usually get a warm welcome from the locals. They welcome us with open arms, good food and a warm place to stay. They cover everything we need, so there is nothing to complain about. We expect a warm welcome in Ottawa just like ones in every other community.
Benjamin Capsissit, Oujé-Bougoumou, started in Pikogan
It helps me to clear my head when I walk, seeing nature. I like meeting new people and going to new places.
Rosalind Sam, Chisasibi, started in Eastmain
I’m happy to walk. I was happy when we walked the land, Cree land, when we used snowshoes. We’re treated very well when we reach different communities. It’s my first time doing this. I wanted to help them and I want to help myself.
Rusty and Bella Mianscum, Oujé-Bougoumou
I was only supposed to watch at first. But then we were asked to join and we agreed right away. We’re meeting new friends and we’re treated well along the way. I will miss my new friends once this is over.
Merlin Kanatewat, Chisasibi
I’ve done walks many times now, but this is hard when we walk on the pavement. Our feet don’t hurt when we walk in the bush.
Philip Rupert, James Loutitt, Albert Icebound
James: I worked as a roadrunner. When my ankle was sore I had to get up real early and we were usually the last ones to get to sleep. Walking on the pavement is hard though. It really hurts the feet. But as a roadrunner you’re constantly working.
Marissa Wawatie, Tyanne Ratt-Decoursay, Rosie Keyes
Marissa: I’m walking for my future and for other people’s future
Tyanne: I’m walking so we have a better future and I’m representing my community Barriere Lake.
Mona Tolley, Sue Thran, Mandy Commonda, Karen Buckshot
Mandy: The biggest thing we’ve had to organize was the food. We started feeding them when they left Rapid Lake and we will continue to feed them. Now we’re working on organizing their baggage.