Walking for respect: Attawapiskat walkers heading towards Ottawa

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Ten days into their journey on foot to Ottawa, participants in Attawapiskat’s Reclaiming Our Steps: Past, Present and Future trek reached Moosonee on the afternoon of Monday, January 13. The group had grown from three walkers to eight, walking from dawn until dusk every day. The group’s Danny Metatawabin’s message on arriving in Moosonee was simple: “It’s time for the First Nations people to rise and take a stand.”

As rocker Neil Young was making Canadian news with his Honour the Treaties tour, trading barbs in the media with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Metatawabin and his co-founding walkers Brian Okimaw and Paul Mattinas – plus newly joined group members – were on a similar, quieter tour that also demanded the Canadian government respect its treaty obligations to First Peoples.

Photos by Elizabeth Kioke, Rodney Hookimaw and Xavier Wheesk

“We, the grassroots people, are walking to Ottawa from the traditional territories of the Omushkegowuk (people) to deliver a message to the leaders of both levels of government and to our respective chiefs that the time to honour our treaties is now!” reads the Reclaiming Our Steps walkers’ mission statement. “The time to address and reconcile Aboriginal issues is now! The time to work together with the utmost respect on a Nation-to-Nation basis is now! We are and will continue to be here and we want our rightful place back within this country called Canada.”
Averaging 25 to 30 kilometres per day, the group reached Kashechewan First Nation by January 8, and Fort Albany the next day. Each evening they are picked up by helpers for a warm night’s rest, then returned the following morning to the same spot.
Metatawabin is the group’s most visible member. Last year he served as spokesperson for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during her celebrated hunger strike. Unlike Eeyou Istchee’s youthful Nishiyuu walkers, he and his Reclaiming Our Steps co-founders are older, a fact that makes their daily mileage more impressive. Metatawabin passes a message along to the group’s Facebook page nightly, detailing that day’s achievements and thanking those members of different communities who have helped them out.
On arriving in Moosonee, the walkers were met by a crowd at the Elders’ centre who welcomed them with a luncheon. Afterward, joined by Chief Norm Hardisty, Deputy Chief Earl Cheechoo and Deputy Muskegowuk Grand Chief Leo Friday, the group crossed the river to walk into Moose Factory Cree First Nation.
Ten days of walking deserved a rest: the group took January 14 off, and continued their journey on the morning of January 15, leaving Moose Factory along the Wetum Winter Road.
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