A walk to remember
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Some walked to remember. Some walked to heal. Some walked to show their support of other people’s journeys. Whatever their reasons, on Wednesday, September 29, for the fifth year running, people of all ages met at the Frog Rapids Bridge to walk. They walked from the Frog Rapids Bridge along Highway 72 to the Travel Information Centre, or as much of the distance as they could comfortably manage. They walked to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, an event that this year has become closely associated with The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
They walked to commemorate other walks in other places.
In June 2016, 13 residential school survivors and intergenerationals from across Northwestern Ontario set out on a 10 Day Sacred Walk from Thunder Bay to Kenora, a distance of 486 km.
In Kenora, in November of 2016, a small group of Tragically Hip fans walked 35 km in memory of young Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack, who was found frozen after trying to walk home from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. On September 8, 2016, a Walk for Reconciliation was held, wherein 15 people walked from Lac Seul First Nation to Sioux Lookout. That walk also ended at the Travel Information Centre.
As Darlene Angeconeb, Executive Director of Equay-wuk (Women’s Group) explained, “I am an IRS (Indian Residential School) survivor and I participated in these 2016 walks as part of my healing. Elders call us spirit walkers because we had prayed during these walks for healing for others, for nations, etc. During the 10 Day Sacred Walk, an Elder started each day (and) would ask that we pray for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (Day One), Missing IRS Children (another day), for Mother Earth the next day, First Nation Leadership, First Nation Youth...those are some of the things he requested that we pray for, throughout the day. That is why he called us spirit walkers. I learned more about myself and about spirituality.”
Angeconeb continued, “Healing is an important part of participating in events such as Orange Shirt Day. It is a day to reflect on how the legacy of Indian Residential Schools has affected our lives and what it has done to our families. IRS students have a hard time expressing feelings. A simple “I love you” can be the hardest thing to say. This has resulted in dysfunctional families and loss of communication in relationships. It makes it hard and we recognize it will take healing to make things better for our families, especially for the youth.”
The turnout for last Wednesday’s walk was estimated to be at least 100 walkers of all ages. The morning began under a cloudless sky with participants gathering at the Travel Information Centre for a prayer, led by Lydia Sherman, and several speakers including Sol Mamakwa, MPP for Kiiwetinoong. In a Tweet released earlier in the day from Sioux Lookout, Mamakwa stated, in part, “Today, I am taking part in a movement to recognize and bring awareness to the realities of residential schools. As I wear one of the many orange shirts you will see today, I am remembering all of our children lost to this system of colonization, intended to rob First Nations children of their language, ways of life, spirituality, and for far too many…their lives.”
For Brenda Baskatawang, it was her first Orange Shirt Day Walk. As she explained, “It was the first time I participated, I really liked it, was a nice day for the walk.” Baskatawang added, “I’ve never gone to a residential school, all the stories that I’ve seen on Facebook, and all the stories that you hear, it’s really kind of sad, and I’m not sure if my mom or dad even went, but I’m grateful that we didn’t have to go. But I do feel for the kids that have gone and never returned.”
After the walk, participants and community members were invited to gather for refreshments set up under an outdoor awning. Before long the empty chairs and tables were all that remained to attest to the day’s events. One of the few remaining participants still in the area was Christine Chisel. Looking back on the morning’s event, she said, “It was a beautiful day for it, and I think it was good. For a good cause.” Chisel then continued, “I attended residential school… I know it was really bad for people before me, so it was really for that I went, to participate, just to honor and recognize what other children had to go through.”
Resources to support those in distress due to the Indian Residential School system include the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, Indian Residential School (IRS) National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, and Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s NAN HOPE program at 1-844-626-4673.