Innu surgeon leads walk on Mount Royal for reconciliation, Indigenous health

Organizer Stanley Vollant said he hopes the six-kilometre walk will inspire Indigenous youth to follow their dreams and promote dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Innu surgeon hopes first annual walk helps build bridges between Indigenous, non-Indigenous people

Vollant led a 6-kilometre walk to promote Indigenous health and wellness Saturday on Mount Royal. (CBC)

Dr. Stanley Vollant has a vision.

The Innu surgeon wants to inspire Indigenous youth across Quebec to follow their dreams, while also leading healthy lifestyles.

That's the idea Vollant brought to Mount Royal Saturday afternoon, as dozens of people attended the first annual "Stanley Vollant Challenge," a six-kilometre walk to promote health and wellness.

"It's very symbolic," Vollant said after the inaugural walk, which took place under pouring rain and ended with a celebration featuring food and music.

He said it was important to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous walkers together in the spirit of reconciliation.

"My vision is to bring people to celebrate wellness and also to celebrate [being] all together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people," he said.

The walk also marked the launch of Puamun Meshkenu, a non-profit group Vollant founded to promote healthy living in Indigenous communities.

The name means "the path of a thousand dreams".

Promoting reconciliation

Since 2010, Vollant has walked more than 6,000 kilometres across eastern Canada, visiting Indigenous communities to talk about healthy living.

The first Aboriginal surgeon in Quebec, Vollant said his dream was "to have a better world for everybody," in which people can get to know each other.

"And to build a better country [and] a better future."

Vollant has walked more than 6,000 kilometres since 2010 to inspire Indigenous youth to develop healthy lifestyles. (Alec Gordon/CBC)

Vollant's goal of building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people was shared by many of the walkers.

Carol Rowan described herself as a descendant of Canadian settlers. She is married to an Inuk man and says reconciliation is important to her.

"When we can walk hand-in-hand … with people on whose lands we are residing, perhaps we can begin to share stories and gain insights and find a place where we can be, in some ways, reconciled," Rowan said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who is running for re-election and came out for the walk, said the walk was taking place on what is traditionally Mohawk land and he said Vollant's efforts were making the world a better place.

'The best way to get to know one another'

Ghislain Picard, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, said he was encouraged by the turnout on Mount Royal.

"What would be beautiful is, within a few years, if we could see these types of walks happen not only in Montreal, but everywhere," Picard said.

He said efforts like Saturday's walk foster understanding between different groups of people.

Vollant said other walks took place at the same time in Lac-Simon and Val d'Or, in the Outaouais region, and in Mashteuiatsh, a First Nations reserve near Roberval, Que., in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.

He said he hopes to organize 12 walks next year, 24 walks the year after that, and to have walks in all the Indigenous communities in Quebec in 2020.

With files from Matt D'Amours