Alex Binkley on Nishiyuu Walkers


Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

The Binkley Report

A lost opportunity by First Nations?

Nishiyuu Walkers left their homes at the mouth of the Great Whale River on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay and took a 1,600 km walk through bitter winter to defend treaty rights in Ottawa. But they didn't get their 15-minutes of fame.

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
  Larissa Ottereyes, image from
  Larissa Ottereyes. Photo from

The boisterous welcome a Parliament Hill crowd gave to the Nishiyuu Walkers from Northern Quebec in late March brought back memories of when Terry Fox reached Ottawa back in 1980.

He had jog-thumped from Newfoundland to the Capital aiming to reach the Pacific Coast to raise attention for the need for funding for a lot more cancer research. He made it as far as Thunder Bay before cancer finally claimed him. His guts and determination made him a national hero.

Or to quote famed Second World War U.S. Admiral Bull Halsey, “There are no great men, just great challenges which ordinary men, out of necessity, are forced by circumstances to meet.” Winston Churchill had a similar tribute to bravery.

Fox received little news media attention until he reached Ontario. He arrived on a sweltering mid-summer afternoon in his traveling gear and talked to politicians, including then Prime Minister Trudeau and then Governor-General Ed Schreyer, and anyone else who would listen to his cause.

Just watching the short, somewhat star struck teenager work the crowd of politicians and media in the House of Commons foyer left one impressed.

If your memories of Fox have dimmed or you’re under 35, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article about his exploits.

The Nishiyuu, inspired by David Kawakpit who had the dream of the trek to Ottawa after the first series of Idle No More protests did little to move the federal government, tramped on snow shoes for much of their 1600 kilometer trek. It was a bitter winter and they often seemed like moving icicles.

The mainstream media ignored their trek from Whapmagoostui at the mouth of the Great Whale River, even as their numbers grew to several hundred walkers, until they were days away from Ottawa, However, it had been faithfully chronicled on Facebook.

When the Walkers reached the Hill, there were few politicians left in town as a two week Parliamentary recess was beginning. And Prime Minister Harper was in Toronto welcoming a couple of Chinese panda bears.

Unlike Fox, who’d gained the backing of the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups that saw his potential for building support for their worthy cause, the Walkers had their 15 minutes of fame cut short.

Neither the Idle No More movement nor any of the First Nations groups seemed to understand how to put forward these likeable young people as champions for their campaign to get the federal government to respect treaty rights. Could there have been some jealousy about the possibility these youthful men and women could become the voices of the First Nations.

A few days after arriving the Walkers had been sent home, where reports suggest they are having trouble returning to the life they knew beforehand.

Friends who are far more knowledgeable in the ways of public relations, shake their heads at the missed opportunity by First Nations leaders.

Unlike the Chief Thersa Spence and the chiefs who seemed to enjoy airing their divisions for everyone to see, the young walkers presented a golden opportunity to show First Nations youth interested in the future and the world they will inherit.

A dear friend who has a deep interest in relations between aboriginal Canadians and the rest of us, went to the welcome for the Nishiyuu on the Hill and came away quite impressed by the walkers. When I mentioned how they had the potential to stand alongside Terry Fox, she agreed.

Instead they are out of sight.

Hopefully they may yet be heard from and can produce as much good as he did.

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