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Ginoogaming walkers raise awareness of Indigenous issues

Participants shed spotlight on missing and murdered Indigenous men and women, cancer, addictions and racism.

THUNDER BAY – Allan Towegishig says for years he felt shame for his Indigenous heritage.

A residential school survivor who spent more than a decade away from his family, Towegishig was taught to forget the ways and customs of his people in an attempt to assimilate him into North American culture.

It still hurts today, he said on Saturday, after arriving in Thunder Bay with approximately 10 other Ginoogaming First Nation residents, who walked from Longlac to raise awareness about a number of issues facing Canada’s Indigenous population.

It wasn’t an easy journey, he said, noting this year's walk was smaller than last year, when about 30 people took part, adding the lower number of participants in 2018 was a result of a number of issues in the community, including a recent suicide. 

“As the people walk, it gets heavy for them, because they’re not really walking for themselves, they’re walking for the people, all their worries, all their problems,” Towegishig said. “It gets heavier and heavier.

But toward the end it gets lighter because they bring thanks from the Great Spirit.”

Each day was dedicated to a particular issue, starting with drug and alcohol addictions. Also recognized were cancer, missing and murdered men and women, residential school survivors and their descendents, suicides, land, water and air and Saturday’s topic, racism.

It’s the second straight year they’ve walked to Thunder Bay – they marched to Kenora in 2016. Towegishig said all along the way they found support for their cause, whether it was passersby honking their horns, dropping off donation of bottled water or contributing money to help cover the costs of the walk.

“We started out alone, but we’ve got a lot of people helping us,” he said.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler was on hand at city hall, and said their journey is an important one, adding it’s heartwarming to see them finish their trek in Thunder Bay.

But while the walk does create plenty of awareness of some of the more troubling issues facing Indigenous People in Ontario’s northwest, Fiddler said it doesn’t paint the entire picture and issued a challenge to the region’s non-Indigenous people.

“I’d like to see Thunder Bay respond to some of these walks,” Fiddler said. “There are so many walks that come through Thunder Bay or end in Thunder Bay. One of these years I’d like to see a group of Thunder Bayers walk to Ginoogaming or walk to Longlac as a way to honour these walkers.

“It’s good that they come out to events like this, but to actually give it back, would be something powerful. I can’t say enough about their commitment, whether it’s preventing suicides, addressing mental health or honouring missing Indigenous women and girls.”

The walkers spent about an hour at city hall before continuing on to Fort William First Nation, their final destination.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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