'It needs to be elevated': Grassroots treaty walk pauses with stop in Edmonton

The Iskapowishak (walkers/runners/helpers) Grassroots Treaty walk arrived in Edmonton Monday. They were expected to carry on to Hinton but will be staying in Edmonton for an undetermined amount of time in an effort to amplify their message.

4 participants have travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres

Pat Etherington Sr. from the Iskapowishak (walkers/runners/helpers) Grassroots Treaty Walk speaks about the nearly 3,000 kilometre journey from Ontario to Alberta. (Tricia Kindleman/CBC)

After walking thousands of kilometres, the Iskapowishak (walkers/runners/helpers) Grassroots Treaty walk stopped in Edmonton Monday evening, a place the participants will stay for an undetermined amount of time in an effort to amplify their message.

The walk began in Cochrane, Ont. and was meant to end in Hinton. The four walkers have travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres to raise awareness and bring people together to stop the federal government's proposed Indigenous Rights Framework. 

The framework was expected to be completed by the federal government in June and has been met with protests across the country, including at the Assembly of First Nations Forum in Edmonton in May. 

Plans by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to replace the modern-day treaty and self-government policies has alarmed some chiefs and activists who believe Ottawa's final aim is to push First Nations into becoming municipalities and extinguish Indigenous rights.

The walkers were led by Pat Etherington Sr. who shared stories about their journey with the small crowd that gathered to greet them. 

Etherington said they were welcomed by communities along the way. They were invited to visit sacred sites in Manitouwaba, they met the Cardinal family in Winnipeg and witnessed a Sioux sundance ceremony.

An eagle staff has been carried by Etherington for much of the trek. Before departing from Treaty 9 territory members of the community attached ribbons to it. But on their gruelling daily treks, the staff at times feels heavy.

"A lot of people put ribbons," Etherington said. "They asked for personal prayers or offerings for health, struggles, families, children and the missing and murdered women."

He says the group starts their days early, they eat some breakfast and then prepare for the distance they will be walking that day. They ensure they have enough water for the group and then they will hold a ceremony before setting out for the day.

Etherington said the early days were the hardest.

"It reminded me of what my parents and my grandfathers must have went through when they were living in their home on what was their hunting ground," he said. "They had to get up at certain times and each step that they were going to do was already organized."

The group was expected to head to Hinton after Edson but have decided to pause to amplify their message.

"It's not just [about] us to come through an area and go to Hinton and finish," Etherington said. "We've thought about this very thoroughly. It needs to be elevated to a commitment and discussion."

He said that could mean adding more people to their walk, it could be about education and conversation to increase awareness about the importance and the meaning of current treaties that are in place. 

Etherington and some of the other walkers have taken part in other cross country treks to raise awareness about various issues. That includes three previous walks from Cochrane, Ont to Alberta, one to Ottawa and one to the east coast.