Earlier today, the Up-Coming Warriors entered the city from Highway 11 North, heading to Ottawa, raising awareness of residential school survivors.
They also walk to heal, to connect with other First Nations’ members along the way, and to fulfill the wish “that changes are coming” to the systems that allowed these atrocities to occur.
Gordon Hookimaw seeks those changes. A young man in his early-thirties, he was raised on the west side of James Bay in the Fort Albany First Nation, which was also home to St. Anne’s residential school, where many Mushkegowuk and Cree children were taken.
As a teenager, he moved to Timmins, where he still resides, the launching point for his Ottawa trek.
He sees the trauma of residential schools echoing through the generations, often resulting in continued harm to First Nations’ youth in the form of substance abuse.
“A lot of narcotics,” Hookimaw said, under the noontime sun during a stop at the Mr. Gas parking lot. “A lot of fentanyl use, overdoses, a lot of Aboriginal people are doing that, and youth.”
His walk serves as “an eye-opener” to these issues, “and today we’re sticking together as one.”
Indeed, he was joined by others on his walk. His cousin Cecile Hookimaw, who lives in North Bay, met him on the hill before approaching the city. Chief Scott McLeod from Nipissing First Nation was there, as he has been for the other walks that winded through the city.
Liberal MP Anthony Rota was there as well, listening to stories, concerns, hearing the reasons that drive Indigenous people to the road.
“It’s bringing an awareness to our history,” Rota said, speaking of the walk. “We can’t erase our history and we can’t change it, but we have to be aware of it so we can get through the present and not repeat the history.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said, adding that after speaking with some of the walkers, he learned that “this is a way of getting it out there, so they can cope with it too.”
“It’s not easy on the people who went through residential school,” he said, acknowledging that change “is never fast enough, but it is moving ahead in the right direction, and I want to see it continue to move in that direction.”
Gordon Hookinaw has been thinking about this walk, which he calls the Up-Coming Warriors Walk, for close to two years, but waited for an event “to give the proper cause as to why this event is happening.”
That event was Kamloops, where the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were uncovered at the Indian Residential School.
Nine days on the road from Timmins to North Bay, and Ottawa remains distant on the horizon. Upon arrival, he hopes to talk with someone at the Capital, because “when we come together, everything is possible.”
But he also acknowledges “we’ve been getting little attention,” regardless of how many Indigenous walks arrive on Parliament Hill.
“We sacrifice ourselves” on these roads “just for them to speak with us, to talk with us,” and he worries that unless he arrives at the Hill with “a billion-dollar cheque,” he may be met with silence.
Jorge Hookimaw is also walking—five Hookimaw’s in total—and he’s no stranger to the road, having walked in 2010 after investigations began into cases of youth who went missing or died while attending residential schools.
“A lot of people didn’t believe what was going on,” he said, but Kamloops changed that, and “those kids have woken the world.”
Jorge attended residential school in 1973, during which time he heard stories that “three kids went missing,” and feels the Truth and Reconciliation Commission “has a long way to go,” suggesting “we bring the history back,” to acknowledge “and honour the survivors, as well as the people who are gone.”
“Canada has nothing to do with this,” he said, “it’s the past,” he emphasized. “People are dying in Afghanistan, and we need to protect people.”
“Not just us, but world-wide, because Canada is a beautiful country to live in.”
“It’s an open walk for healing,” Gordon Hookimaw said, and many First Nations’ members have been helping him along the way.
“Some days are hard” along the road when you walk between eight to 12 hours. “Some days we want to give up and start tomorrow” and that support gives him “that courage to continue on.”
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca