David Kawapit, an 18-year-old Cree from the tiny James Bay community of Whapmagoostui, left his home on Jan. 16 to walk all the way to Ottawa.
It was his way of participating in the Idle No More grassroots movement. On Monday, he will arrive in the nation’s capital, along with his half-dozen original travelling companions and the almost 300 others who joined them along the way.
“The message we wanted to bring was unity with Cree nations,” Mr. Kawapit said in an interview on Sunday. “I wanted to ensure that the next generation of youth have good lives, ones where they don’t have to fight for their native rights.”
During his nearly 10-week journey, Mr. Kawapit endured temperatures that dipped below –50 C and snow storms. But the most difficult thing, he said, was being so far away from his family, including his nine brothers and sisters.
“Every day was a challenge, but I proved to myself I can pass those challenges,” he said. “ It’s really good that everyone’s paying attention.”
Along the way, his group attracted considerable attention both to their journey by foot as well as the native unrest brewing in so many communities.
It was Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike that initially inspired Mr. Kawapit to make his journey to Ottawa.
Whapmagoostui Chief Stanley George helped him prepare for the 1,100-kilometre trip.
Whapmagoostui, also known as Great Whale, is the last Cree community before the Arctic. It is home to more than 900 Cree and located on the eastern coast of Hudson Bay.
Chief George told The Globe and Mail that the most amazing part of the trip was the warm welcome the group received in many communities, especially as they entered non-aboriginal areas of Quebec.
On Saturday, the town of Wakefield, just north of Ottawa, pulled out all the stops to greet the travellers. The town’s 500 residents prepared a hot dinner in the community centre, where the travellers spent the night. It was Wakefield resident Scott Duncan’s idea to provide lodgings and meals for the group. He had been avidly following the group’s journey online.
Chief George said he hopes to join the group for the final 15-kilometre leg of their journey on Monday, when they travel from the community of Chelsea to Ottawa. But he said he got blisters after walking 12 kilometres on Saturday with them.
“It just showed me the strength and courage these young people have,” he said.