Paul Seesequasis
The Nishiyuu Walkers, arriving triumphantly in Ottawa after their 1,600-kilometer trek, were greeted by cheering thousands.

Nishiyuu Youth Walkers Greeted by Cheering, Thousands-Strong Crowd in Ottawa

Paul Seesequasis

It was a triumph of the next generation, a beacon pointing toward the future. Sixty-eight days and 1,600 kilometers after setting out from the remote James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui First Nation, seven young aboriginals arrived in Ottawa on March 25 and stood proudly on the steps of Parliament before cheering crowds.

Along the way the “Original Seven,”—David Kawapit, 18; Geordie Rupert, 21; Raymond (Bajoo) Kawapit, 20; Stanley George Jr., 17; Travis George, 17; Jordon Masty, 19, and Johnny Abraham, also 19—as the Nishiyuu walkers became known, had picked up roughly 270 more, as well as thousands of supporters worldwide, and captured the imagination and hearts of many.

"I took this walk for healing, [for] the challenges we face,” said David Kapawit, the young man who was inspired to initiate the journey by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence’s fast in protest of government policies. He spoke to the crowd in Cree. “I am so honored to see you all here in support. This moves me so much."

The simple message of unity and pride of the Cree, Algonquin, Inuit, Mohawk and other youth who undertook the trek resonated far beyond the Native world. The response also revealed that the inspiration behind the Idle No More movement is far from played out.

“We need to heal as a nation,” said 11-year-old Abby Masty, who had joined the group with her parents along the way. “For the women and for the youth. To show our respect for the wisdom of our elders. And that is why I asked my parents to go on this journey.”

The walkers’ main guide, 46-year-old Isaac Kapawit, had accompanied them for the entire route, earning the moniker the White Wizard.

“I want to thank the original youth that started out. And all the youth that joined us in every community along the way. That made this special,” said Kapawit, speaking in Cree.

At least three thousand people listened on the lawn in front of the Parliament buildings on what became a bright sunny spring day in the capital. It was a remarkable show of support for a workday, and the walkers were visibly moved. Politicians were there in abundance: Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations; Spence, whose fast in December and January inspired many in Idle No More and gave inspiration to the Nishiyuu journey; Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree Nation, and even some members of Parliament.

Noticeably absent was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in Toronto at the same time as the rally on a photo op with Chinese pandas. The choice of priorities did not go unnoticed: The Twittersphere, for one, lit up with tidbits such as, “So how long did these pandas have to go on a hunger strike to have Harper fly down to meet them in person?” Internet memes abounded.

But that did not take away from the elation of the walkers or their supporters.

“They walk,” said Chief Stan George, “to deliver a strong message to other First Nations that the Cree Nation of Quebec are true keepers of their language, culture, traditions, and more importantly, [that] we respect the sacred laws of our ancestors. The time to stand united is now.”

George’s son was one of the original six walkers, and at the rally the chief beamed with pride as he walked down the avenues of the capital, his son beside him, along with the other five who had come from the far north. Behind him walked 500 more people, and applauding supporters lined the streets.

Distance is a hard thing often to quantify, but it was clear to all in the crowd exactly how far these youth had come. The originals came from Whapmagoostui, the northernmost Cree community in the James Bay Region, its 800 residents reachable only by plane. They had started out on January 16, the dead of winter. Temperatures had dipped to –50 Fahrenheit, not counting wind chill.

By the time they drew near Ottawa they were no longer in wilderness but were walking alongside highways, escorted by police, with passing cars honking in support. The terrain had changed, but as each walker addressed the crowd—many speaking in their mother tongue, through translators—they stood in stark contrast to the south, where languages are more endangered, and few can speak their Native language. Also evident was the shyness, and humility, of these youth. Along the way south from ‘Whap,’ as the community is nicknamed, passing through Cree and Algonquin territories, they inspired others who were driven to join them simply because of the positive message of the journey.

As youth after youth spoke—and it was the young people's remarks that were given precedence—addressing the politicians and chiefs, a single eagle circled high above Parliament Hill. Soon people were pointing upward, marveling. It was clear that this was a unique journey—a gift to all, Native and non-Native, from youths who had embarked upon something both intensely public and deeply private. Each had their own inner journey to confront, and that came out when they spoke to the crowd of greeters, speaking of suicide, addiction and abuse, and dear ones lost. But also revealed were strength, determination, hope and that particular, stubborn, idealism that only youth can inflame. 

Each of the nearly 300 walkers who stood on the steps of Canada's Parliament building on March 25 brought a message. It was a message that fit under the rubric of Idle No More but went beyond. It said that hope and direction for the future comes from the youth. Adults helped, guiding and offering advice, but it was the youth who embraced the journey, who had trudged through bitter cold, with aching feet, traveling seemingly endless miles, toward a brighter future. 

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Suzanne Brooks's picture
Suzanne Brooks
Submitted by Suzanne Brooks on
I am so proud to show my support for these wonderful young people.

pat cosme's picture
pat cosme
Submitted by pat cosme on
It just seems that Canada, especially the children are so far ahead of the lower 40...

Marcia Naziel's picture
Marcia Naziel
Submitted by Marcia Naziel on
I am honoured to follow your Journey & Supported You all The Way, I CRYED seeing 'The Walkers at their Feast & Felt The Love & Support of 'The Host who feed the Walkers as they reached their Goal on Their Journey', I cryed see "The Walkers take a Strong step each Step to 'The Parliament Hill' , This is Truly a mark in Hystory!! Lots of Love & Hugs from Smither's British Columbia , Canada !! AHO !! Massii <3 <3

Marcelene Anderson's picture
Marcelene Anderson
Submitted by Marcelene Anderson on
Congratulations on completing a significant victory, showing the power of people who decide to make a difference! It wasn't easy, as most things are not. You proven to yourselves, your communities and the world your resolve to take on challenges and follow through.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
What did they expect from this washichu! Typical good for nothings of politics. Harper does NOT have his priorities in order. You see your citizens FIRST! Not some fool Chinese beast! Shame on you Mr. Harper! Bad move & we First Nation people will not forget this!

joe vazquez's picture
joe vazquez
Submitted by joe vazquez on
In all due respect and admiration to this brave northen walkers Prime minister Harper has responsabilities to canada as a whole So if welcoming the Pandas keeps economical super power China On our side so be it. Natives have and will keep on waiting for years to get what they Need, Harper is prime minister now but the native demise begun Centuries ago wih the arrival of the white people and is not about To end had Harper been there waiting for they arrival. Canadian natives need to stay focus on their goal and not get Discourage by such vanities, stay focus brothers.

Elize Hartley's picture
Elize Hartley
Submitted by Elize Hartley on
My heart is full of pride for our youth. I am a Metis Elder, I volunteer much of my time working in my community to bring to the youth and older folks the beautiful messages of our ancestors, look after the earth, we come from the earth and will go back to the earth. We need to thank the Great Spirit/mystery every day for the gifts we have here on earth. Be thankful, thank nature for all we have. May the spirits of your ancestors guide you everyday. Elder E.

Annie mianscum Wabanonik's picture
Annie mianscum ...
Submitted by Annie mianscum ... on
My husband join the cree youth ,from our rez Lac Simon so u know he is algonquin and he is a elder ,he is 63 yrs old, i asked him why r u going to join the walker , i believe that we need to show our youth ,no matter what tribe we r from that we surpport them in what ever it is that they stand for ,which is a wide variety of issues, as a elder i wanted to show my surpport and i too learned from them and i really enjoy my walk with the cree youth most of all i learned we r strong when we r in unity one voice, one nation.

Pat Stamp's picture
Pat Stamp
Submitted by Pat Stamp on
I see seven sets of snowshoe prints in the snow. A powerful symbol of what these young people did. There should be a book written and a movie made by the people involved so that the true story is told and not by Disney.

Peter MacDonald's picture
Peter MacDonald
Submitted by Peter MacDonald on
Well written, showcasing the inspirational journey of the walkers and showing the youth in the world that they can make a difference ! They made us all proud of them.

myra catherine long's picture
myra catherine long
Submitted by myra catherine long on
please let me know how i can contact the walkers. I am now helping to bring in the Dakota Unity Riders from Manitoba and the Onondaga Nation of Syracuse, NY for healing this summer from July 27 to August 09 and August 10... Please, someone contact me. I would want the walkers and all who can come to the area to be here .