Attawapiskat First Nation member Junior Hookimaw is hoping to embark on a walk from Timmins to Ottawa to bring healing to residential school survivors and their families.
Along with five other people, he wants to walk in memory of thousands of Indigenous children who have been found in unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada.
“Healing not for myself, for everyone. For the survivors, for grandmothers who lost their children because of residential schools,” he said.
Hookimaw hopes to start the trip as soon as possible and estimated it would take up to three weeks to reach Parliament Hill where the group will end the walk with presentations, teachings and awareness stories.
The other walkers include his brother, two residential school survivors who are in their 60s and two people in their 30s who need healing, according to Hookimaw.
He set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for food, accommodations and a patrol vehicle. Hookimaw also created a public Facebook group, The Up-coming Warriors, to spread awareness about his plan. He also wants to make connections with other communities along the highway that could help the walkers with shelter and food or show support by walking with them for as long as they can.
“We would really need those funds to make it easier because for 10 to 14 hours a day, we’re going to be on our feet, walking every day until we arrive at our destination,” he said.
Hookimaw said he was inspired by Walk of Sorrow, started by Patricia Ballantyne, but he’s had the same idea since winter. His mother encouraged him to do the walk and in the wake of recent news, he felt it was the right time to do it.
“It’s not just a walk. It’s a spiritual walk for healing,” he said.
He said he’s considered joining Ballantyne’s walk, when she makes a stop in Timmins, but he doesn’t know the details of the walk or how long it will take them.
Hookimaw’s parents are both residential school survivors. According to Hookimaw, his father was abused and had his arm broken when he was in school.
Indigenous peoples, who had a strong connection to the Creator, Mother Earth and forces of nature, lost that connection when they were taken away to residential schools, he said.
“A lot of our survivors are severely depressed and don’t even know it … these were only children. They’re lost, confused and depressed living life with their horrible memories,” Hookimaw said. To numb this pain, many use alcohol and drugs, he added.
For the past eight years, Hookimaw hasn’t cut his hair in honour of children who were forced to have their hair cut when they were in residential schools. Hookimaw was inspired to keep his hair long by his brother, who’s also been growing his hair.
“Today we have battles. Not physically, emotionally. Let’s work together and have hope, have faith. That’s all we need,” Hookimaw 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