A group of Innu women have completed a gruelling 65-kilometre hike through wild Labrador terrain in order to reconnect to the land and their community.
Their route stretched from Barren Lake — a remote area in central Labrador, about midway between Natuashish and the Quebec border — back home to Natuashish, a feat that took eight days.
Women and Girls Expedition Walk organizer Mary Jane Edmonds, working through the Innu Round Table Secretariat, has been on all eight of the trips since its inception in 2017.
Edmonds frames the walks as way for community members to seek relief from the pressures of daily life and reconnect to nature.
"Healing comes from the land," Edmonds said. "I think in order for us to get back to being healthy again, and back to healing, is going back on the land or where we originated."
Twenty-eight hikers, ranging in age from six to 61, landed in Barren Lake on July 3, carrying tarps, sleeping bags, food, clothing and mosquito nets on their backs.
On July 11, they returned to their community. Three from the group were not able to finish the walk, due to medical issues or injuries, and were transported back to Natuashish, according to Edmonds.
Learning on the land
Edmonds says the expeditions provide an opportunity for younger participants to learn things that can't be taught within the community.
"[Teachings are] not taken as seriously in the community as they would be out on the land ... I don't know how to explain it, but down on the land, it's so genuine ... everything is so different," she said.
"Everything is so open. Your mind is open. Your body is clear out there … that's what I want the women and girls to experience."
Beverly Nuna, Edmonds' niece, flew to Barren Lake along with her two daughters, aged 10 and 12.
She says the walk was "very much needed."
"It was important to bring my girls and just to experience the land," Nuna said. "[My aunt] always talked about how beautiful it was and it always made me want to go, but I couldn't because my kids were younger and I didn't want to leave them. But I'm so glad I took my girls and just saw it and all the stories behind it."
Nuna says her daughters loved the trip, helping the other participants along the way. The experience was unlike any other, she said.
Edmonds estimates the group walked farther than the 65 kilometres shown on a map.
"We're climbing steep hills, going through [and] around the brooks, and around the rivers," she said.
"It's not 65 kilometres anymore. It becomes a 100-kilometre walk, and that's not easy."
While these walks are difficult, Edmonds says the experiences gained, the lessons learned and the relationships built are worth it.
"Your blankets are soaked, your clothes are soaked … there's a lot of tears … but everything is taken in stride," she said.
"On these walks we talk a lot and we laugh. We tell stories and we enjoy company … and I think that is one of the things I really enjoy about this."