Spirit Quest on Nishiyuu Walkers

Spirit Quest

Nishiyuu Walkers, image via http://nishiyuujourney.ca.

Self respect was the issue for the Nishiyuu Walkers

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

12 April 2013 — By now the Cree youths have arrived back home. This time not on foot over ice and snow and hard ground the way they came. I have not heard  but I surmise that they returned by more modern modes of transportation.

Did their winter odyssey change anything? Undoubtedly that question has been asked many times. Will the Journey of Nishiyuu (the Journey of the People) have accomplished anything at all? Will it have made a visible impact on Indian and non-Indian relations, on the way the government treats the First Nations and have done so from time immemorial. Doubtless their appearance in the various communities through which they passed made an enormous impact on the residents causing some to leave home and join their ranks. Their numbers had grown to hundreds.

Certainly the most powerful impact was made on themselves. The seven set out with determination from Whapmagoostui on the eastern shore of James Bay 1600 kilometres north of Ottawa. There were undoubtedly many questions on their minds, whether their bodies could sustain the hardships of climate and terrain and even the efficacy of their cause. But with every icy kilometre that they crossed there grew within them a sense of confidence, determination and purpose. They have also experienced a great sense of community with both native and non natives who shared their cause and welcomed them to this nation's capital. They knew that they were not alone. The Cree youth that returned to their homes are not the same as those who set out months ago.

Since publishing a story in which I mention this band of venturers I have received not only accolades but also criticism. One has ventured to say that the destination of their journey was misplaced. They should not have gone to Parliament Hill like Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence who had allegedly mismanaged funds from government. Mismanaging funds is not unique to native people and their administrators but is evident at every level of government as well as in the private sector.

The Winter Odyssey was not about funding. All problems can’t be solved by “throwing cash at them” we are often reminded. What that odyssey highlighted is the presence in Canada of a people of quite a different culture and language  and way of life. Their way of life is not mine. But us southerners can’t get our minds around the fact that ours is not necessarily the best and only way.

We have done much to denigrate their culture, their so-called “primitive ways.” Many of our native people have lost a sense of self worth, especially among the youth, to wit the epidemic of suicide, substance abuse, crime and poverty on and off reserves. Read James Bartleman’s revealing book, As Long As the Rivers Flow or Richard Wagamese’s best seller Indian Horse.

Those who have trekked through the northern wilderness have undoubtedly discovered something about themselves and have gained a new sense of self worth. They will have found a feeling of ownership of the land that they crossed. The Indian Act, the broken treaties, the tragedy of residential schools have done much to foster an inferiority complex among them. Their trek was a healing journey not only for the trekkers but all native people..

I have had the privilege of getting to know some of the Chippewas of Nawash on Cape Croker on the Bruce Peninsula. I have also had the opportunity to study the progressive incursion of white man on Indian land, much as Israelis have settled on Palestinian territory. I have witnessed the struggle of Native fisherman to carry out their trade while harassed by sports and commercial fisherman. It led to the destruction of native fishing gear turning Owen Sound Bay and Colpoys Bay into what seemed like war zones.

At the Owen Sound farmers market a lone native fish seller was attacked and had fish entrails thrown at her, a disgusting act that I myself witnessed. Some of us sought to protect her from the mob, led by, I kid you not, the local MPP.

This happened in the 90s. Some of us non natives from Owen Sound and Wiarton strove to know and appreciate our native neighbours and organized support. Peacekeeper observation teams went out with the native fishers to document attacks on them.

Very recently MP Larry Miller, (Conservative, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) criticized a new Aboriginal commercial fishing agreement signed between Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) and released March 12. That Agreement is the third since 2000 and it sets the terms by which the two First Nations on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario will practice their aboriginal and treaty rights to fish commercially. It had been fervently hoped that that era of confrontation had passed, alas.

I began by asking the question what the Walkers had accomplished by their long and arduous journey — the answer is that they have born witness of a powerful spirit among the youth that will not allow the non aboriginals to deal with them as minors or children that have to be taught a better way or even how to balance their books. Those young Cree voyageurs bore witness to a spirit that cannot be destroyed.
For a long time their lives were idle, but they will remain idle no more. There is a Spirit  that shall continue to empower them.


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