Innu girls celebrated after 65-km wilderness walk

The community of Natuashish is holding a banquet Saturday to celebrate seven girls who completed a nine-day walk through the Labrador interior.

Ashley Piwas one of 6 girls trekking through bush some 65 kilometres from home

The group was dropped off 65 kilometres outside Natuashish, but they say they didn't take a direct route home because of obstacles like brooks and bogs. (Facebook)

Every time Ashley Piwas saw an airplane flying overhead, she wanted to get on it and go home.

The 15-year-old from Natuashish was one of six girls trekking through bush some 65 kilometres away from home. They, along with seven women, were blazing a trail home, in what Ashley describes as a gruelling walk.

"I kept saying to myself, 'I can do it, and I can go home,'" she laughed.  

The nine-day journey in July was a retreat for girls and women. Mary Jane Edmonds, one of the adults on the trip, said the idea was a response to a common lament from young people in Natuashish that there is nothing to do.

Aaliyah Gregoire is one of seven girls to complete the walk. Edmonds says the younger generation moved much faster than the adults. (Facebook)

"We wanted to support the youth [by] going into the country," she said. "We've had in the past, men walking from the country … we believed the youth can do it also."

On Saturday night, the volunteers who helped organize the walk held a banquet to celebrate the girls' accomplishment.

"This walk was major, so I wanted to help get them recognized," said Edmonds.   

Seven girls and six women from Natuashish have completed a gruelling walk through the Labrador interior. On Saturday, their community will celebrate. 10:21

It's also a chance to thank supporters who helped track the girls' progress with GPS and brought them supplies when needed.

"We want to appreciate the community for their support and their encouragement and their love."

Edmonds said young people are excited about getting out on the land and getting involved in traditional Innu activities like camping and fishing.

"We need that in our life as Innu people because the land is part of our culture, it's part of our lives. It's where we belong."

'Not everything is going to be passed to you'

Still, Edmonds said, no one expected how taxing the walk would be.

"We had to cross a lot of brooks, lot of streams, fast-flowing streams, and we had climb a lot of mountains, go through a lot of bogs," Edmonds said.

"They were very strong and very determined," she said of the girls, who ranged in age from 11 to 15.

"They could've been home in days if we [adults] weren't so slow."

The girls and women were dropped off by float plane in the Labrador interior. A support crew followed their progress using GPS trackers. (Facebook )

Ashley figured she knew what she was getting into, because she'd already done a long-distance walk over sea ice in the winter. But she says this was the hardest trip she'd ever completed.

"I never thought it would be this hard," she said. "There were a lot of trees in the woods … like we [couldn't] go where we want to go."

That's the point, said Edmonds.

"This is what we kept trying to tell them. Not everything is going to be passed to you," she said, "you have to work for those things. And that's what they did."  

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is co-host of Labrador Morning on CBC Radio One. She's based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.