Approximately 50 “honour walkers” embarked on a 32 km journey from the site of the region’s largest residential school Thursday looking to remember a painful past and to find connections with family and allies.
Called the Nibi Walk, the group gathered in orange shirts and hoodies at the Mount Elgin Residential School memorial on Chippewa of the Thames territory just after 7 a.m.
The final destination of the six-hour, women-led walk was the N’Amerind Friendship Centre in downtown London. The honour walkers were part of a relay, trading off at various points, and inviting others to join the procession along the way.
“So, this honour walk is about the residential school survivors who are still here, especially during these important times when the graves of the children who did not make it home are being uncovered,” said Tracey Whiteye, the ceremony and transition coordinator at N’Amerind Friendship Centre. She helped organize the walk.
“This walk is to aid as part of the healing process by countering the violent ripple effects that have been resulted from the impact of the residential school system.”
She hopes the walk will also help educate the public and encourage people to be allies.
“[It] is about the truth regarding the impact of the residential schools that continue to have on indigenous peoples of Canada,” Whiteye said.
A water walk
Water played an important role in the day’s journey with walkers carrying it with them.
Whiteye explained that water has been a “sacred gift” to Indigenous people for thousands of years, and that “Indigenous women are the keepers of water,” traditionally, which they must protect.
She says that water “has spirit and it holds many medicinal purposes.” It’s also “a witness to [their] history.”
“It’s going to teach us and remind us of the interconnections we have with all of our relations,” Whiteye said of the walk.
A sacred fire was lit at the N’Amerind Friendship Centre, with some people heading off afterward to take part in the Orange Shirt Day 5K Prayer Run at Springbank Park.
The Nibi Walk took place on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is Sept. 30.
The day was legislated as a statutory holiday by the federal government this summer. The provincial government observed the holiday but not as a stat holiday, however the City of London did.