HAMILTON – A group of youth and young adults from Attawapiskat and surrounding areas have walked more than 800 kilometres — from Cochrane, Ont. to St. Catharines — to raise awareness on suicide.
The group left Cochrane on June 7 and met at the Assembly of First Nations National First Nation Youth Summit in Niagara Falls last week to conclude their walk and address the chiefs present.
“We want to address the issue of suicide on reserves across Ontario,” said Patrick Etherington, a supporter and helper from Moose Factory, Ont. “We don’t have the answer, but we want to show our commitment to solving the problem before it gets worse.”
This is the 11th walk Etherington has been a part of since 2005 that helps raise awareness for various problems that face First Nations today. This walk is about bringing awareness to suicide, but he has done other walks that focus on things like honouring treaties and remembering residential school survivors.
“Our walk is about empowering our youth and giving them a voice,” said Etherington. “Every time Attawapiskat is portrayed in the media, it’s negative; always about money or suicide or crime,” he said. “We’re doing this walk so the rest of Canada can see how much we actually do care about solving our problems.
“It’s not money, or donations we want. We want to be understood,” he said. “That how we live on reserves is different than how the rest of Canada lives and if everyone could understand that, then they would have an easier time acknowledging that a lot of our problems don’t exist because we want them to.”
Etherington said that the easiest part about the walk is just that — walking.
“Walking is the easy part,” he said.
Etherington said that the police were notified and that the group is approved to walk on the highways and that space has been made for them so they may walk their routes safely. “The first thing you feel is the physical pain; the blisters and sore legs, but then you ask yourself why you are putting yourself through this physical pain and are reminded of how suicide has effected you.
“You think about all the people suicide has taken from you and then those emotions come into play and that’s what takes the biggest toll on you as you walk — but is also what pushes you forward.”
Twenty-one-year-old Anthony Farmer joined the walk a few days later than most, on June 16, he joined the walk because he felt like this is something he had to support.
“I’ve lost two family members to suicide and lots of friends,” he said. “I would say everyone who is a part of this walk has lost people that they love to suicide and it’s becoming an epidemic.”
Farmer said that walking hasn’t been too hard for him but the high temperatures, walking in the rain and especially walking up some of the hills on the highway was.
“Hills look like nothing when you’re in a car and you don’t even notice them while you’re driving,” he said. “On foot though, it’s completely different. It can take a really long time. A lot of people cheer or honk for us as they drive by — some people gave us the finger, but that doesn’t effect me, it just pushes me forward.”
The group, known as the “Youth Walk of Hope” made a pit stop in Hamilton last week where the Two Row Times met up with them at the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre as they came into the city.
Aboriginal Healthy Living Co-ordinator Charlene Hemlock, from the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre said that they invited the group to rest at their location because they are so inspired and grateful for their efforts; she was honoured to offer the group some encouragement on their journey.
“I care for all the youth that have been lost to suicide and the families that have been effected by it, but especially now because suicide has become a normal thing to my children,” said Hemlock. “Suicide doesn’t surprise them anymore and it hurts me to see my kids growing up like that. This walk, is so appreciated and important.”