Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Omushkegowuk Walkers arrive in Ottawa after trek from Attawapiskat

Walk meant to raise awareness of treaty issues

Lauren Strapagiel

After 50 days and 1,700 kilometres on foot, a trio of Cree men are now in Ottawa.

Danny Metatawabin, Paul Mattinas and Brian Okimaw set out from Attawapiskat, Ont., a First Nation near the shores of James Bay, on Jan. 4. Their goal was to walk to Ottawa and send a reminder along the way to both chiefs and the government to honour the treaties forged between Canada and First Nations.

“As in the wisdom of our Elders that continue to remind us of where we should be, and in considering the future aspirations of all of our youth, we are seeking justice, equality and fairness as First Peoples of this country,” said a message from Metatawabin on the Facebook page that has chronicled their journey.

They arrived, as scheduled, on Sunday. Today, the group will stopped at the Human Rights monument for a ceremony before continuing on to a rally at Parliament Hill.

The group walked as much as 30 kilometres per day, often along the sides of highways in snow, rain and frigid temperatures. According to the group, an average of six people have walked each day.

Although they started as just three, they were joined by new walkers as they stopped in Fist Nations and other communities along the way. When they passed through North Bay on Feb. 11, the group had reached nearly 20 members.

In addition to treaty agreements, the group wanted to draw attention to issues that Attawapiskat and other First Nations know too well. Poor housing conditions, above-average suicide rates, the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women whose cases have gone unsolved and the disproportionate rate of incarceration are just some of problems facing both on and off-reserve aboriginal people in Canada.

Attawapiskat in particular made headlines in 2011 after its own housing crisis got nation-wide attention. Although hardly the first or last First Nation to face such circumstances, news of families crammed into sheds without running water struck a chord with those who had likely never heard of the remote community. Although the government responded with some emergency housing (and controversial third-party oversight), problems still persist.

The Omushkegowuk Walkers are not the first to make the journey south from James Bay. Last March, a group known as the Nishiyuu Walkers arrived in Ottawa from Whapmagoostui in Northern Quebec. That group started with a group of Cree youth and swelled to more than 200 walkers for the arrival in the capitol.

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