Five-day walk in Alberta, Sask. aims to build relationships, deeper understanding of treaties

·3 min read
Walkers took part in ceremony before beginning a five-day walk from St. Paul, Alta., to Fort Pitt, Sask., on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021.  (Submitted by Janice Makokis - image credit)
Walkers took part in ceremony before beginning a five-day walk from St. Paul, Alta., to Fort Pitt, Sask., on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. (Submitted by Janice Makokis - image credit)

The call is out for walkers to join a five-day trek to build deeper understanding of treaties and relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The walk started Sunday in St. Paul, Alta., and will end in Fort Pitt, Sask.

At least 30 people are on the walk called Awasisak, Our Future.

"We wanted to walk to Fort Pitt because that is the area where our ancestors entered into treaty in 1876 on Sept. 9," organizer Janice Makokis said, referring to the sixth of the numbered treaties signed between the Crown and First Nations.

"We're thinking about our ancestors that were there 145 years ago meeting, discussing in ceremony, talking about the future and what kind of things that they would need to put into that treaty to ensure that myself and all of the future generations would be thought about and taken care of into the future."

Walkers took part in ceremony, teachings, a film screening and panel discussions before beginning the trek. Makokis is also posting videos to the event's Facebook page along the journey.

Lack of education and lack of government action on implementing treaties across Canada has contributed to socioeconomic issues in Indigenous communities, misunderstandings, stereotypes and increased racism, Makokis said.

"It revolves around this non-understanding of the relationship that existed here and how we were supposed to live together in peace and friendship and how our people were supposed to be taken care of — healthy, well, we would prosper and we wouldn't be living in the situation that we're living in today," she said.

"So that's why I feel an immense amount of obligation, responsibility to educate people."

Knowledge for next generation

Makokis is following in the footsteps of her mother, Pat Makokis, who co-ordinated a 2017 event called Treaty Talk, which brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to Saddle Lake Cree Nation to learn about treaties.

Treaty Talk and a second event, a treaty walk from Edmonton to Calgary in 2019, were both turned into documentaries which are available to view online.

"My mom and I have been talking over the past year about the importance of my generation and younger, learning about the treaties and having the knowledge transmission and the knowledge exchange from the older generation to the younger generation," Makokis said.

"A part of that is for our generation to take the leadership role, to learn about treaties … and to work with non-Indigenous peoples, allies, to foster better, more meaningful relationships."

Candice Cardinal, director of the Saddle Lake Boys and Girls Club, said youth, including teenagers and children as young as seven, are taking part in the walk.

"It really gives you a glimpse of the future," Cardinal said.

"The youth are our future and making sure that they have a future gives me a lot of hope and a lot of faith in knowing that this will keep going, the whole spirit and intent of honouring [the treaties] will be consistent."

Also encouraging for Cardinal was the support the walk received from local farmers and community members of the St. Paul area who joined the walk and made lunch for the group, she said.

The group will walk up to 22 kilometres per day. On Wednesday, the route includes a shuttle ride between Heinsburg, Alta., and Onion Lake Cree Nation at Onion Lake, Sask. The walk is expected to finish in Fort Pitt on Thursday.

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