A healing walk from Timmins to Ottawa helped Junior (Gordon) Hookimaw stay focused and healthy.
In August, Hookimaw, an Attawapiskat First Nation member, embarked on a journey to bring healing to residential school survivors and their families. He also walked in memory of thousands of Indigenous children who have been found in unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada.
“It helped me to stay focused, stay healthy. Not only helping myself as well as helping other people and keeping that up,” Hookimaw said about the walk.
He was accompanied by his mother Miriam who’s a residential school survivor, his brother Rodney, and another survivor Maurice Wesley. Two other people withdrew from the group due to financial issues.
Hookimaw said his memorable moments from the walk were about, “all the humour Maurice had, all the laughter and not realizing how far we get each day."
The group walked up to 40 kilometres a day. Along the way, they were greeted by supporters, some of whom would join the procession for 15-30 minutes.
When the weather was hot, it was mentally challenging, Hookimaw said. To avoid heat exhaustion, the walkers would take turns walking and then cooling down in a patrol vehicle, which was following the walkers to ensure their safety.
“This walk was to be a positive trail. We call it the Red Road where you’re sober, away from drugs and alcohol,” Hookimaw said.
When the group reached Ottawa on Sunday, Aug. 29, Hookimaw had mixed emotions.
“At first I was happy. Then I was emotional and within seconds, I was tear dropping,” he said.
After a meet-and-greet with the supporters, the procession headed to Parliament Hill where people of all races and nationalities gathered around the Centennial Flame, Hookimaw said.
Before the meet-and-greet, it was raining, Hookimaw recalled. After he and Wesley prayed to ask the Creator to keep the walkers and supporters dry, the rain stopped.
The walk is complete but the ceremonial, spiritual side of it hasn’t finished yet, Hookimaw said explaining that he hopes to return to Parliament Hill on Orange Shirt Day with residential school survivors from the James Bay coast.
“The walkers are going to be there and we’re going to close it spiritually,” he said.
A 24-hour residential school crisis line offering support to former students and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com