Journey of Nishiyuu World Premier

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Hundreds of kilometres away from home on a wind-whipped frozen lake, the true reason why he was out there dawned on David Kawapit.

“There’s this sense of quiet, to stand there and take it all in. Everything seems so small,” said Kawapit. “You get a sense of fulfilment and appreciation for just being you, right there in that moment. Everything feels really, really calm – even though you’re freezing.”

Kawapit, then a 17-year-old Cree who’d never been away from his community, catalyzed the Journey of Nishiyuu, a 1600-km walk from Whapmagoostui to Parliament Hill in the dead of winter. The journey grew in solidarity with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on her hunger strike and the Idle No More movement of 2013.

“I wanted to support Chief Spence but I wasn’t sure how to do it,” said Kawapit. “So I tried to think of what the Cree way would be? And I thought it be a great idea, as a 17-year-old, to go for a walk.”


Fast forward four years and the Journey of Nishiyuu has now been immortalized on the silver screen. The Cree-produced and directed documentary, in association with Agoodah Pictures, premiered June 15 at Montreal’s Cinéma Beaubien to a packed crowd.

Director Ben Masty, producer Matthew Mukash, and several of the original walkers were on hand to witness the event. “I was really excited and nervous going in. I didn’t know what to expect from the premiere,” said Masty. “I was happy with how it turned out.”

The production marked Masty’s directorial debut and was a crash course in guerrilla filmmaking. Armed with his girlfriend’s Nikon camera and some sound equipment, he accepted the challenge laid out by Mukash to document and tell the walkers’ story.

“What I had was what I had and it was basically just me filming and recording the whole way through. It was like if you took your iPhone and started making a documentary,” said Masty. “It was all organic. I didn’t plan a production schedule. I would have preferred to have a full crew and equipment, but I was able to tell a human story visually with what I had.”

Masty remembered one occasion where his camera froze after only minutes out in -30 degree temperatures. “It didn’t take very long before the camera would freeze and fog up and I’d have to fix it.”

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Capturing the moment by any means necessary was crucial, said former Grand Chief Matthew Mukash. “There comes a time in human history when something out-of-the-ordinary comes out of nowhere and we realize that it is a sign that great change is coming into our world,” said Mukash. “Practically, the whole world was watching the journey. For me, it was a story that needed to be told.”

In the opening segment of the film, the journey of Nishiyuu is likened to the Cree legend of Cheecheojans through an animation, illustrated by Saige Mukash – a.k.a. Nalakwsis – and narrated in Cree by Matthew Mukash. It was the Elders of the community who reminded the production team of the evocative similarities. The animation sets the stage for the drama of the documentary to play out.

A little boy who lost his grandfather would not stop crying. When asked what would make him stop crying, he responded that “hunting summer birds would.” A team of young warriors were then sent to the south to fetch the Spirit of Summer that was kept in a Bundle by a selfish tribe who wanted summer only for themselves. So, the warriors went south and encountered many obstacles and fierce battles on the way. But being the dedicated, fearless warriors that they were, their mission was a success. Wherever they were on the way back home, the snow and ice melted and vegetation started to blossom. By the time they reached their village, the grieving boy was happy because he was able to hunt summer birds. Great change came to the people in a good way.

Matthew Mukash paraphrasing the Legend of Cheecheojans


When the walkers reached their destination on March 25, 2013, the original group of seven that left Whapmagoostui had ballooned into hundreds and social media indicated that people from 70 countries around the world were tuned in.

“At a time when we’re talking about reconciliation between Canada and the Indigenous peoples of this country, the journey itself points to the need to have a community vision for the future, unity not only among our youth but among all peoples of the world,” said Mukash. “This – as I understood it and it is expressed in the film – was the key message of the 2013 Journey of Nishiiyuu. We need to continue to nurture the spirit of the Journey of Nishiiyuu and let it guide us forward.”

The documentary succeeds in taking the raw footage and creating a relatable, human story. We see the challenges, the ceremony, the laughs, and a group of seven walkers grow into a global movement.

“It was exciting and very emotional. For me, it was a dream come true,” said Mukash after the premiere. “I was delighted to see these Eeyou-Eenou youth on the silver screen, and reading the credits seeing that the direction, music, photography, and other work, was all done by Eeyouch made me proud.”

Kawapit concluded be saying the journey “gave me the courage to do what I want and need to do. If I can do that, there’s not much I won’t be able to do the rest of my life. Even if you’re up against a million obstacles, all it takes is commitment and a focus on what you need to accomplish.”

The film will be screened at the Views of the World Film and Music Festival in Montreal September 19-24.

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