First Nations in southern Manitoba embarked on a walking campaign Wednesday with the intention of promoting unity in health care across their communities.
The event, put on by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) as part of its health transformation process, was held in the communities of Dakota Tipi First Nation, Ebb and Flow First Nation, Lake Manitoba First Nation, O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, Pinaymootang First Nation, Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation, Skownan First Nation and Waywayseecappo First Nation.
SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a press release the walks were part of a public education strategy focusing on providing Anishinaabe and Dakota nations with an opportunity to share information about adequate and culturally informed health care.
“It is also a chance to have the voices and knowledge of our communities drive the development of a southern First Nations health-care system,” Daniels said.
The SCO’s goal with the community-based, five-kilometre walks was to demonstrate alignment on the building of such a health-care system, which would strike a balance between ancestral wisdom and western medicine to ensure optimal wellness.
Daniels told the Sun after one of the walks that he was pleasantly surprised with the turnout — especially the number of children who participated.
“There was a lot of happy children who were involved,” he said. “It was nice to have the community come together to do something that was about our health.”
People who joined in the walks were supplied with free shirts and encouraged to write their reasons for walking on the shirts, from their own health struggles to loved ones who have died, Daniels said.
Diabetes and cancer were among the top concerns on people’s minds, he said.
“Diabetes is obviously one of the hugest contributors to a lot of the health issues that we see in our communities. Cancer rates are also very high. We’re trying to sort of educate, as well, around living active lifestyles and also healthy eating, and having conversations about how we can make this a part of our everyday lives.”
Coty Zachariah, a policy analyst with SCO, said the walks also provided a chance for education on the importance of mental health in First Nations communities.
“Especially coming out of a pandemic, that had health impacts on us physically and mentally,” Zachariah said. “We’re continuing to look for different ways to facilitate some of the mental health and land-based learning.”
Zachariah said that its especially important to model good mental health practices for younger generations. Taking part in the community walks, he added, is a good example.
“Kids notice. When we do gatherings like this, they may not understand all of the implications of mental health, but they know that it’s important to gather and to get to see each other and visit after being so isolated,” Zachariah said. “That’s crucial for mental health, being able to gather in community and do things together.”
Daniels said SCO is planning to host the community health walks on a yearly basis.
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun