BRANTFORD – Ken Wilson was born and raised in Brantford with a cursory knowledge that there was at sometime, an Indian presence here. Beyond that, like most settlers, he knew nothing, and knew even less about the residential schools in the area.
After leaving the area to attend post-secondary school, which took him to Ottawa and then to Regina where he presently lives, he began to find out about the issues affecting Aboriginal peoples and in particular, that of Six Nations and the Haldimand Tract.
“One purpose of my walk is to experience the size of the Haldimand Tract,” Wilson told the Two Row Times outside the Mohawk Institute building on his way through Brantford. “It’s one thing to look at it on a map, but it’s quite another thing to walk it, from source to mouth. This was a big piece of land.”
When he first heard of the atrocities done at residential schools, he knew he had to do something to help expose the truth.
“When I first started reading about it I was just shocked at the outrageous behaviour of the early settlers,” he said.
Wilson also walked the community of Santiago a few years ago and enjoyed that experience, so he began thinking about how he could help with the saving the evidence campaign to turn the old residential school into a museum and memorial to those dark days in Canadian, and Onkwenonwe history.
“I contacted Janice Montour [from the Woodland Cultural Centre] and asked if the museum would be interested if I did a fundraiser for the project,” Wilson recalls. “He also inquired with others from Six Nations to see if there was anything inappropriate in doing this.”
He gathered pledges using the existing accounts set up by the centre, and began his journey. But for him, it is much more than a long walk. He was given instructions as to how he was to conduct himself while on this walk including how to burn tobacco every morning before he begins to keep it pure in the sight of the Creator, how to show respect for the waters he crossed and to be alcohol free.
“After a long walk I like to have a cold beer at the end of the day, so that was the hardest thing, but I have remained faithful to that promise.”
He began his trek at a motel near Dundock, Ont. and has stayed in a series of bed and breakfasts along the way. Wilson was back in his old stomping grounds of Brantford visiting the Mohawk Chapel, Kanata Mohawk Village, the Woodland Cultural Centre and Museum, and the infamous “Mush Hole.”
All of these sites he was vaguely familiar with when he lived in Brantford, but with no understanding of what any of that meant. This time he was seeing those sites with entirely new eyes and hearing the story of the Haldimand Tract with new ears.
While in the region Wilson met with a list of people to learn more about the people he grew up next door to.
His journey ended at Port Maitland with sore feet but a rejuvenated mind having walked the entire distance of the Haldimand Tract.
Wilson’s Haldimand walk was not only one of personal discovery but also a way to share some of the knowledge he has lately learned, by way of a daily journal he compiled along the way and posted on his blog site, muscleandboneblog.wordpress.com.
“This has become a spiritual journey for me,” he says. “There are times when I am overwhelmed by feelings of shame for our history. I am really hoping to get past that.”
Looking towards the old residential school building, Wilson said, “The crimes that were committed here are just astonishing. It’s impossible to imagine a mindset that see this kind of thing as permissible.”
“I think the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] has been very helpful in focusing on one piece of that history and a piece that all people can relate to because we were all children at one time and we have all been to school.”
He thinks the commission has made the mainstream more open to other aspects of the long history of broken relationships, breached treaties and broken promises, as he himself now understands.
Although pleased former Prime Minister Stephen Harper is no longer standing in the way of real reconciliation, he is also watching closely to see if new Prime Minister Trudeau’s promises for a nation-to-nation relationship works when it starts costing Canada and Canadians money.
“I really don’t think he knows what a nation-to-nation relationship will look like or will cost. Trudeau is talking a good game, but we will see if there is any action,” says Wilson. “But, we have an opportunity here, and I hope we will grab onto it with both hands.”
The journey is in relation to a course he is taking at the University of Regina, towards a Master’s of Fine Arts in Theatre, of all things. But Wilson sees the walk as a theatre performance for his many blog site followers as he posts his journal from the Haldimand Track walk each day.