Omuskegowuk youth walk for the future
Darren Huey, 21, of Kashechewan, Chad Friday, 14, of Kashechewan and Wayne Koostachin, 27, of Fort Albany all joined the Omushkegowuk walkers during the journey to Ottawa.
While it was three men who began the Reclaiming Our Steps: Past, Present and Future journey in Attawapiskat, many youth stepped up to support the cause and message.
Wayne Koostachin of Fort Albany First Nation joined when the walkers passed through Moosonee.
The 27-year-old said he had wanted to do a walk after a group of women walked from Attawapiskat to Cochrane in 2003.
“It’s to honour our treaties and for my people, for our youth and future generations,” he said of the Omushkegowuk walkers.
Chad Friday of Kashechewan was the youngest of the walkers. The 14-year-old joined in Cochrane.
“I don’t like it when the government treat us like this, like what they’re doing to our land and they’re not treating us right,” he said. “They’re supposed to respect us but they’re not. That’s how I see it.”
Raven Turner of Temagami First Nation joined when the walkers were between her home community and North Bay.
Having learned about residential school, the treaties and how resource development impacts First Nations, the 17-year-old wanted to raise awareness on the issues.
“Even (for) Aboriginal people, especially in the city because they don’t know what’s going in First Nations,” said Turner, who has familial roots in Fort Severn.
While they supported the political meaning behind the journey, the young walkers also had personal reasons to take part.
Darren Huey of Kashechewan always thought of his grandfather, who is in an Attawapiskat hospital. Friday said he walked for his cousin who committed suicide, and his uncle who died of cancer.
For Sammy Koosees of Attawapiskat, he walked for a number of reasons, including family members who passed on from alcoholism or suicide.
“And for my family back home,” the 23-year-old said, who joined the walkers in North Bay. “They’re heavily into drugs and they always have arguments and it gets really heavy.”
The walk took on extra meaning for Koostachin when his grandmother passed away during the journey. He returned home to Fort Albany during the walk to lay her to rest.
“My grandmother told me on her hospital bed to continue your journey, to help your people in anyway you can,” he said. “Do not give up. So that’s what I did.”
Walking 30 kilometres a day took its toll on the youth. They suffered blisters, swollen knees and ankles, and sore hips and feet.
“My legs were really sore and I had blisters, and my bones kept bugging me all the time,” Huey said. “I never gave up, I just kept walking.”
“Most of the time it’s sore feet,” Koosees said. “Most of the time I never complain. I just keep going.”
The thought of quitting was never seriously considered.
“In my mind, I thought we’re getting closer every day,” Turner said. “Why quit now?”
Completing the journey on Feb. 24 was an emotional experience for all involved.
“When I woke up, I was all pumped up, ready to go,” Turner said. “When Parliament was in our view, you could just feel the energy that everybody had and I couldn’t help but cry. I just felt so much pride and I was so happy to accomplish this journey with everybody.”
With all the supporters that rallied with the walkers on that day, Friday said he was honoured.
“I felt happy that I made it, and I cried,” he said.
There were also mixed feelings now that the journey was over.
“Happy, sad,” Koostachin said of his emotions. “(Sad) because it’s coming to the end and I was with these walkers for quite a bit.”
This was Koosees’ fourth walk. He previously walked twice to Alberta and once to Halifax. He said it’s always sad when it reaches an end.
“I actually like doing these and I just wanted to keep going,” he said.
The conclusion spells some relief for most.
“I’m gonna head back home,” Koostachin said on Parliament Hill. “I’m very tired.”
The youth bonded throughout the journey, and now most will go their separate ways. But the youth hope the friendships formed will not end.
“We’re gonna keep in touch and probably still be close, hopefully,” Turner said.
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