Indigenous youth on epic journey to Ottawa deserve attention and respect

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: Ben Powless

Monday, March 25: The Journey of Nishiyuu arrives in Ottawa today. Hundreds of supporters, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, will be on hand today in Ottawa to greet them. Members of the labour movement and other civil society groups will be there to show their support. Some Members of Parliament, from opposition parties, will be there when the group arrives on Parliament Hill shortly after 1p.m. EST today.'s parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg will be there on the Hill to report on this historic event. 

David Kawapit Jr. is a name that everyone who cares about this country deserves to know.

This young man, a 17-year-old Cree from the isolated community Whapmagoostui on Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, decided it would be a good idea to walk 1,600 kilometres to Ottawa in support of the Idle No More movement. Some of his friends joined him.

So with temperatures apparently hovering at around -50C, he and six others left home on Jan. 16, trekking on snowshoes and pulling their supplies, stopping at communities along the way to tell people that they wanted changes to how Indigenous people are treated in Canada.

They want to change the contempt with which they are treated, they want to end the blockage placed in front of them designed to quash their aspirations and heritage, they want to end the mentality of relegation that sees so many First Nations forced into to the lowest status imaginable by the political and cultural mainstream.

The gesture reflected the mood across the country in the middle of January, when Idle No More was in full flow with protests and media attention.

But there was little attention shown to these young people quietly walking through the forests. At the time of writing, I can't find much in the mainstream national press, nothing in the Globe and Mail about it, nothing in the National Post, a couple of stories on CBC North, one story in the Toronto Star ­­­-- but nothing for the whole country to see.

It's all over social media, mainly via astonishing photos of the young people walking in a long line across frozen open spaces like lakes, with trees  --  and Ottawa -- in the distance. Over the last two months it has been possible to mark the trek south by location on Google and imagine step after step, tree after tree, village after village. The website for the journey is (Click here join the Facebook group, which now has over 30,000 members.) 

As the walkers moved slowly through the wilderness they stopped off at other isolated communities, gathering up young people who want to be a part of it. There were plenty and so the numbers grew.

As they entered Lac Simon, Quebec, on March 6, the original seven walkers had turned into 80 people. There was a feast and dance that night and when the walkers left the next morning, their numbers had swelled to 93, with young Algonquins joining them. By March 11, on the last part of the walk, the numbers had risen to over 170.

Marilyne Jerome, the director of education for Lac Simon, 30 kilometres from Val d'Or, told the CBC that her daughter had joined the walkers.  

"This is the message of what they want as a future," she said. "The future they want is to know who they are and where they come from."

She said she believed the walkers symbolized part of an Anishinaabe prophecy known as the Seven Fires -- which describes the time for aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples to come together.

The talk from the walkers themselves seems to emphasize the warmth of their situation, rather than the cold around them.

Sixteen-year-old Saige Mukash joined the walk in Waskaganish and spoke to the CBC after a month of walking.

"I wanted to walk because I wanted to get better with myself. I wanted to learn how to take care of myself and how to be happy with myself. So far I've learned a lot and I'm really, really happy to be here," she said.

"It's an amazing experience walking in snowshoes, and feeling the pain in your feet and your legs is pretty amazing because that is what our people used to do and we know how much they suffered walking from place to place."

This is a life-changing moment for these young people and those who love them. This is an achievement they will embrace all their lives. It's an epic journey, awesome in the real sense. It's the example of an accomplishment that we ought to wish on any people who want to seize life for themselves and determine their own fates. It's an act of personal reclamation and a declaration. And it shows that these are ordinary young people who are also extraordinary young people. They deserve respect. They are an inspiration that I want the young people in my community, in my family, to know about.

In a little over a week, on March 25, the walkers expect to reach the Parliament buildings. How they will be received by the Harper government, which has tried to ignore or delegitimize the Idle No More Movement while shaving away at longstanding health, education, and development programming for indigenous people, remains to be seen.

But whether they get the attention from the media or officialdom is one thing, what needs to be understood is that two things will arrive together in Ottawa that day. One will be a group of Indigenous teens on a quest for themselves and the other is an idea of justice and autonomy that I believe can no longer be repressed.


Cathryn Atkinson is a reporter with Pique Newsmagazine in Whistler, B.C. and a former editor. This article was originally published in Pique and is reprinted here with permission. 

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.