4,500-km Indigenous snowmobile expedition will carry message of reconciliation, healing and hope

·4 min read
The Expédition First Nations Expedition will happen between Feb. 16 and March 4. Close to 60 people, mostly Indigenous, from seven different nations will take part.  (Marie-Laure Josselin/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The Expédition First Nations Expedition will happen between Feb. 16 and March 4. Close to 60 people, mostly Indigenous, from seven different nations will take part. (Marie-Laure Josselin/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A 4,500-kilometre Indigenous-led snowmobile expedition — believed to be the longest in the world — is taking shape in Quebec and is about so much more than snowmobiling.

Expédition First Nations Expedition will see close to 60 people — mostly Indigenous — from seven different nations in Quebec travel in the bush over 18 days from Feb. 16 to March 4, 2022.

Organizers say they will carry a message of reconciliation, healing and hope and they want to help rebuild connections between Indigenous peoples across Canada and to increase understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Quebecers, among other goals.

"We are very proud of this project because it offers something that all nations can identify with," said Christian Flamand, an Attikamekw from the Mauricie region of Quebec and one of the main organizers of the expedition.

"It is not just a snowmobile trip."

Project ... offers something that all nations can identify with. - Christian Flamand, an organizer of the expedition

The participants include members from Atikamekw, Innu, Cree, Naskapi, Mohawk and Inuit communities, as well as some non-Indigenous Quebecers.

Sacred fires

The expedition is also being called The Expedition of the Sacred Fire. There will be 11 First Nations women taking part, who will be responsible for carrying charcoal from a sacred fire that will be lit on the first day in Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, on Quebec's Lower North Shore. The community is near Sept-Iles, about 900 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The women will also be responsible for lighting six other sacred fires in different communities along the route.

Peggie Jérôme is one of the 11 Indigenous women who will be taking part in the expedition.

"We want to heal together with a sacred fire. We will pick up charcoal from each sacred fire. It's going to represent a reconciliation of our nations across the country," said Jérôme, who is the general director of youth protection services for four Algonquin communities in the Abitibi region in northwestern Quebec.

submitted by Christain Flammand
submitted by Christain Flammand

An avid snowmobiler, Jérôme said everything about the expedition spoke to her.

"To ask the creator ... we need to heal. To start something good in our life and to renew our nations," said Jérôme, who is making the trip with her sister Marlène.

Organizers are asking each community to keep the sacred fire burning for the duration of the expedition.

Honouring children, MMIWG and Joyce Echaquan

The plan is also to honour Indigenous children who didn't make it home from residential school, as well as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, organizers said.

The expedition will also honour the memory of Joyce Echaquan, the Attikamekw woman from Manawan who died last year at a hospital in Joliette while facing a barrage of racist insults from hospital staff that she live-streamed through her phone.

Echaquan's widow, Carol Dubé, will be one of the riders, according to organizers.

The group will pass through several Indigenous communities, from Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam to Kuujjuaq in Nunavik and then back through the James Bay Cree coastal communities and the Algonquin communities in the Abitibi region. The expedition is set to end March 4 or 5 in Manawan, an Attikamekw community, located 250 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Christian Flamand/ Expédition First Nations
Christian Flamand/ Expédition First Nations

"I think a lot of people were waiting and needing a project like this," said Flamand, who says people from all over Quebec are interested in the project and helping in the organization. A film crew will be along for the whole expedition and a documentary will be produced.

Participants from each nation will take the lead of the expedition when riders are on their ancestral territory.

Cree Nation participation

The Cree Nation of Quebec will take the lead of the expedition beginning at Brisay, about 1,800 kilometres northeast of Montreal. The expedition will then travel to Chisasibi, then down the coast of James Bay through Wemindji and Eastmain to Waskaganish, said Robbie Tapiatic, one of three Cree participants.

"All nations will ride together ... this is not a race," said Tapiatic in Cree, who has been out on the weekends clearing the path through Cree territory. Tapiatic says he's taking part to help Indigenous people heal.

"I am doing this for this for the late children and missing and murdered [Indigenous] women and girls. We're doing our part to heal," he said.

The other Cree participants are Keith Bearskin and John E. Sam.

Sam, who is a Canadian ranger, says he was asked to take part because of his knowledge of the territory. He knows the expedition will be a challenge.

"It will be a tough journey. It will be hard at the beginning, and we will prepare ourselves and workout our muscles," said Sam in Cree.

The Expédition First Nations Expedition have created a Facebook page. Organizers are planning to share regular live updates during the expedition.