Cree youth walking from Whapmagoostui, Que., to Ottawa reached the Algonquin community of Lac Simon this week, about 30 kilometres from Val d’Or, Que.
The Cree youths and their guides left Whapmagoostui, the northernmost Cree community in Quebec, Jan. 16 on "The Journey of Nishiyuu," which means "The Journey of the People" in Cree, in support of the Idle No More movement.
The Nishiyuu group has since grown from seven original walkers to close to 80 people. They plan to reach Ottawa on March 25.
About 100 people welcomed the walkers in Lac Simon with a feast and a dance.
Now that they are in Algonquin territory, youth from the communities of Pikogan and Lac Simon in the Abitibi region of Quebec are joining in.
David Kawapit, one of the original walkers from Whapmagoostui, said he's looking forward to being joined by youth from the Algonquin Nation.
"I heard the Algonquins are going to be really disciplined, far more disciplined than we are," he laughed.
"I think they said that the Algonquins are just going to walk non-stop to the camp, and I think the guys can learn a lot from that — how not to stop, keep themselves going even when they are tired. I hope they can keep up with the Algonquins. I heard they’ve been preparing ever since we began."
Marilyne Jerome, director of education in Lac Simon, organized the walkers’ arrival in the community. Her daughter is one of the four Algonquin youth who will be joining the walkers when they leave Lac Simon on Thursday.
"This is the message of what they want as a future," she said. "The future they want is to know who they are and where they come from. That's why I wanted to help."
She said she considers the Journey of Nishiyuu as part of an Anishinaabe prophecy known as the Seven Fires that says now is the time for aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples to come together.
"There are many visions and stories told by our elders about this time, and I think it's important to take the lead and help those youth," she said.
Saige Mukash, 16, from Whapmagoostui, joined the walk in Waskaganish and has been walking for close to a month. She said it's a very emotional experience.
"I wanted to walk because I wanted to get better with myself. I wanted to learn how to take care of myself and how to be happy with myself," she said.
"So far I’ve learned a lot and I'm really, really happy to be here. It's an amazing experience walking in snowshoes, and feeling the pain in your feet and your legs is pretty amazing because that is what our people used to do and we know how much they suffered walking from place to place."
Roger Orr, whose daughter, Catherine Orr, is one of the Cree youth walkers who joined in Waskaganish, said the energy and emotion of the walk is sometimes overwhelming.
"Today I brought a guitar for them and I was just watching them in amazement — their spirits and their energy… They've become almost like my family and like my children."