Chief Vern Janvier has walked nearly 200 kilometres in a 500-kilometre journey to Parliament Hill to raise awareness of the residential school system’s impacts on Indigenous communities and protest the Indian Act. He is walking with 12 community members and supporters. After starting his journey in Sudbury on July 18, he has already worn out a pair of shoes.
“My hope is to finish the walk,” said Janvier in a Wednesday interview from Mattawa, a town of 2,000 people in northeastern Ontario. “But it’s up to the journey. It’s not like you are taking a car, there are just a lot of factors that add to the experience.”
This is the second awareness walk he has done, after a 300-metre walk on Canada Day turned into a seven-day, 130 kilometre memorial walk from the Chipewyan Prairie Dené First Nation to Fort McMurray earlier this month.
This journey is on less familiar ground. The group chose Sudbury as a starting point because of the 500-kilometre distance from Ottawa. The goal is to consistently walk 20 kilometres daily along Highway 17, which connects the two cities. Janvier hasn’t set a firm date for when they will arrive in Ottawa.
“Today we walked straight through some hills and on some of those hills it feels like your lungs are going to blow up,” said Janvier. “We are walking on the gravel and on the side of the road, not on the asphalt, so our feet are getting the damage from the gravel.”
The group sleeps in two recreational vehicles, while a third vehicle takes the lead and prepares a meal at 3 p.m. One of the vehicles displays a banner with the name of the walk, Blinding Light Walk—Tiger Lily. Janvier said the blinding light in the title represents the truth as “an energy so strong that it’s blinding.” The tiger lily is an homage to the multilayered plant.
“It has six or seven layers that you can peel back and there has been a lot of peeling back of the layers of the residential school system,” said Janvier. “You add the government, the Indian Act and the antiquated policies from the colonial days that still run Canada. All of these layers are slowly being peeled back piece by piece today.”
The group has received support from communities they’ve walked through, including water, supplies and food. Janvier said people driving by have honked horns in support, while others have stopped to share their own stories of the residential school system.
“The amount of people we have seen on this road that either went to a residential school or has family that went to residential school is remarkable,” said Janvier. “It’s a lot of sorrow, a lot of pain that we are hearing.”
Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today