Reclaiming Our Steps: A spiritual journey
From the very start, Danny Metatawabin declared that the Reclaiming Our Steps: Past, Present and Future journey was a spiritual one.
Ask any of the walkers who joined and all would agree.
This includes Raven Turner of Temagami First Nation, who had previously taken part in traditional ceremonies before she strayed and got into drugs and alcohol.
But joining the Omushkegowuk walkers put her back to her roots.
“This opportunity came along and I’m like, I gotta do this,” said Turner, who has family in Fort Severn First Nation. “I did a lot of praying for myself too to get through the day. And praying for the others so they can keep going.”
Metatawabin said last spring, he went into the bush found “this great big tree.”
“And I asked that big tree of life to give me a sign,” he said. “I offered my tobacco and prayer that morning. And maybe that’s how this journey came to be. This journey needed to happen and people who saw the messages on our webpage that this is a spiritual journey. And this message came from God.”
Brian Okimaw said one of the main reasons he joined the walk was to remind people of Wisakedjak.
“People forget who Wisakedjak is, and I’m here to remind people to go back to those ceremonies,” he said. “He existed here. He’s the one who brought the ceremonies, sweat lodge and pipe. He brought those ceremonies.”
Okimaw said he had a vision prior to taking part in the walk.
“I was walking in very harsh cold climate. I felt something strong and spiritual was happening to our land. And this is the walk I’m taking part of,” he said.
The walkers say they pray and think about their ancestors while on the walk.
“We had to pray, pray, pray, even when we stop,” said Paul Mattinas, who started the journey with Metatawabin and Okimaw in Attawapiskat. “Ask the Creator to help us to make it to Ottawa. And we made it here.”
When Okimaw’s leg swelled up and he had to rest for four days, he began a spiritual conversation.
“I told God, is this my end? Are you trying to tell me something?” he recalled. “Are you trying to send me home? Are you trying to give me message: is my walk over?”
Okimaw was able to continue the journey.
As they approached Cochrane, the walkers met women who did reiki energy work, a Japanese technique used to reduce stress. It is also used for healing.
“They applied to us their energy work and that really helped us,” Okimaw said. “We didn’t have nothing, no pain. It went away. And I walked every day since.”
Even as the walkers entered the traditional territory of other communities like Temagami and Wahgoshig, ceremonies were conducted by the hosts.
“That’s how I knew it was spiritual all the way to North Bay,” said Frances Whiskeychan, who was a helper for the walkers since Cochrane. “There was always something being hosted on the way. You know there’s a lot of help from our ancestors, the Creator.”
Turner said the connection she had with the Creator was overwhelming.
“That closeness you feel with the Creator, that he’s there with you, like all of us. It’s little things like that. The first time I really felt close - I don’t know how to explain it, my whole spirit was just lifted,” she said.
Metatawabin said their prayers helped keep the walkers protected. The journey was without any major negative incidents.
“It was a unique experience because I’ve always believed God was looking out for us,” Metatawabin said. “All throughout the journey, we never experienced any bad weather
whatsoever. In Renfrew it was just rain. No blowing snow. God created a path for us.”
There was some relief once the walkers completed the journey.
“I think the spiritual healing journey accomplished what we needed to accomplish, to give the message to the people and to the governments,” Okimaw said.
Metatawabin was the only one to walk every step of the journey.
“Again, I’m very humbled and grateful for that part,” he said. “I have faith in Creator, and I have faith in people.”
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