A Warrior Walk for Healing Nations embarking from the Yukon to Kamloops – where 215 unmarked graves of children were discovered on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this summer – made a stop in Williams Lake during the BC Day long weekend.
Originally planned as a solo walk by Telegraph Creek resident Jamie Henyu and supported by the Northern Nations Alliance – a non-profit made up of volunteers from across northern B.C. and Yukon, a larger vision took shape.
The walk began in Whitehorse on June 25, with plans for participants to arrive in Kamloops on Aug. 9.
On Saturday, July 31, walkers arrived in Williams Lake, where they converged with Cariboo residents at the Sugar Cane Powwow Grounds at Chief William campsite. Dinner, camaraderie, conversation, drumming and song were all enjoyed.
Sunday, Aug. 1 residents met walkers at the brake check north of Williams Lake where they continued to the Tourism Discovery Centre, then again at the Chief William powwow arbor. So far, walkers had traversed roughly 2,000 kilometres.
The Tribune caught up with walkers, along with several residents from the Williams Lake area, prior to their departure to the TDC.
In particular, the youth walkers wanted to share their reasons for participating.
Wilfred Johnston of the Yukon said he participated for many reasons but, particularly, to bring awareness to Indigenous people for cultural preservation and language revitalization.
“It’s been amazing (here in Williams Lake),” he said. “Beautiful land. They have an arbor I want in my community and it’s a real honour to be walking in Secwépemc First Nation land into Kamloops where I feel Canada actually woke up (to the history of residential schools).”
Chris Fairclough said he participated to spread awareness across North America so no one can say residential schools didn’t happen, or weren’t “that bad.”
Julie Smith of Haine’s Junction in the Yukon said she’s honouring every child, survivor and the children that never made it home.
Another walker, Amber Marston, who is of Mi’kmaq descent, said as a child care worker, hearing about the unmarked graves in Kamloops brought about depression, and a loss at how to cope with what happened.
“As I continued this journey I had a vision,” she said. “We were on our way to Watson (Lake) near the start, and I was trying to fall asleep. The vision I had was all these kids’ hands on glass, trying to get out … our leader said those are my ancestors. God has a plan and it’s bigger than myself. It is for the kids.”
Lucas Yuill, whose dad introduced him to the walkers from the beginning, was participating in the walk by wheelchair.
“It definitely has been healing,” he said. “It feels good going into many different territories. We’ve met some good people along the way, made connections and built friendships.”
Candice George, who is of Dakelh/Wet’suwet’en descent and is from the community of Stellat’en near Fraser Lake, added she was introduced to the group by her cousin and was invited to come along for the walk. She’s been singing and drumming for the group as a way to provide inspiration and support.
“My mom, aunties and uncles and first cousin are all survivors from Lejac Residential School,” she said. “I’m walking for my auntie Lillian Louis, who is going to be 84, and she actually walked with me for the last bit into Lejac. It’s important to me because my nieces and nephews would be the first generation to not attend residential school.”
Henyu, meanwhile, said there are a few things he wants to come from the walk.
It’s important no one forgets the residential school system, he said.
“It affects a lot of people,” Henyu said, noting the impacts are felt from elders to the youngest generation.
Henyu also wants to honour elders impacted. Many are hurting badly after the Kamloops discovery and other discoveries that have followed, given their own trauma suffered at residential schools, he said.
“I want to raise them up and bring them to a good place,” he said, also noting the importance of helping the younger generations understand, as well.
The walkers plan to spend a couple of days in Williams Lake before continuing along on their journey.