(Journey of Nishiyuu walkers on Hwy 105 in Quebec and heading toward Parliament Hill on Monday. Photo courtesy of Andrea Schmidt)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
CHELSEA, Que-The 1,600 kilometre Journey of Nishiyuu, which began with a vision of a wolf facing a bear, neared its epic climax Monday with a final march on Parliament Hill.
Standing in the parking lot in Chelsea, Que., about 18 kilometres north of Canada’s capital, and surrounded by about 200 people, David Kawapit said the idea of the journey began after he had a vision while at a friend’s house during the protest fast of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Spence pitched a teepee this past December on an island in the Ottawa River demanding a meeting with the federal government.
Kawapit says he was moved by Spence’s fast and was thinking about how he could also join the struggle for First Nations rights when a vision appeared. While Kawapit said he would recount the full vision during a planned speech beneath the Peace Tower later Monday, he revealed that part of it involved a wolf and a bear. He said the wolf symbolized First Nations people in Canada and the bear symbolized the government.
“A wolf alone can be easily killed by it, but with its brothers and sisters everywhere, it can call upon them and it can take down the bear with ease,” said Kawapit. “That is what became the unity part of this. We all need to stand together.”
Kawapit is from Whapmagoostui First Nation, a fly-in community of about 800 Cree people that sits just above the 55th parallel along the eastern Hudson Bay coast in Quebec. Now, nearly three months later Kawapit, who is one of the original seven walkers who began this journey, prepares to take his final steps toward Parliament Hill.
The unity theme spurred him across frozen lakes and gave him strength trudging through drifts on snowshoes, he said.
“Uniting First Nations across Canada and other Indigenous people takes time,” he said. “I hope I am still alive when it’s done.”
With a group of Algonquins joining the march in its final days, part of his vision appears to be coming true.
Kathleen Jacko, 23, from the Algonquin First Nation of Kitigan Zibi, said she took the day off from work to walk with the Cree Monday.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” said Jacko, who joined the marchers on Sunday. “I thought, I have to do this.”
The approaching end brings mixed feelings of joy and sadness for some.
Natalie Mathias, from Winneway First Nation in Quebec, was loading up supplies into the back of a cube truck for the last time. She struggles briefly to compose her emotions.
“You don’t want to say goodbye. I’ve been with these people for so long,” said Mathias, who has been with the walkers for nearly a month.
Others say they will carry the memories from the journey with them forever.
Benjamin Capassisit, 22, from the Ojibway First Nation of Mattagami in Ontario, has memories scrawled on his jacket in the form of signatures from the people he’s met along the way.
“I wanted something to remember everyone by,” said Capassisit, who joined the journey a month ago. “This journey, it made me a lot happier. I was quiet and shy.”
Whapmagoostui First Nation Chief Stanley George says he feels nothing but pride.
“I don’t want it to end,” he said. “I’ve never been so proud of my young people…People keep asking, what is the message. The whole walk is the message.”
George said he also found out this weekend that his community’s peewee hockey team had also captured the regional championship.
Jordan Masty, 22 one of the original walkers, says the walk is also about the future.
“We still want to keep our culture, our land because of the next generation,” he said.
Geordie Rupert, 21, who is also one of the original walkers, said the long kilometres have yet to sap his energy.
“I love all my people,” he said. “We are going to start another journey after we finish this.”
The walkers plan to journey to Victoria Island, which is where Spence held her fast in the shadow of the Parliament buildings and the Supreme Court. From there they will march to Parliament Hill for a day of speeches and celebration.