Cape walkers win 2018 Y peace medal
The trans-Canada walkers who started their journey at Neyaashiinigmiing in December are the 2018 YMCA Peace Medal recipients.
They call their walk DaNamaamin Moseyang GiwGanchigaazjig Kwewag, or, We Will Walk in Prayer for those Murdered Women.
They left Dec. 21 with a plan to walk across the country in a year. But the road took many unexpected turns and now the group is heading home for the winter, having made it as far as Edmonton.
The route has not been as direct as they’d planned due to factors including inclement weather, restrictions when they could walk along the highway, RV breakdowns, and requests to visit always welcoming First Nations communities.
Carlene Keeshig, whose nickname is the “walk mom,” accepted the award at a ceremony at the Owen Sound Y, which was attended by a few dozen people, including some past recipients.
Keeshig is a Cape band councillor and volunteer organizer of the walk from home, who walked as far as Collingwood with them at the start.
The award is presented at Y’s across Canada to celebrate peace in our communities and to reflect on the peace-building work that happens all year both inside and outside the YMCA, Peace Medal committee member Brian Minielly said.
Keeshig accepted the award for E Naad Maa Get (Branden Emmerson), Niibin Kegadonce (Tianna Fillo), of Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Jacqueline Hines, of Pennsylvania, and on behalf of herself, Waabum Meegis Kwe
Emmerson and Fillo have been walking since the start. Many have joined and left the walk.
They’re driving back and were expecting to be in Wawa by Thursday night, running low on fuel and funds for more gas to get home, Emmerson said in a video posted to the walk’s Facebook site Thursday afternoon.
They plan to fundraise, regroup and recommence in the spring, bound for British Columbia and Yukon, then east to Newfoundland and then home – all on foot, with no determined end date, Keeshig said.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Keeshig said after the ceremony. “When we first initially thought about doing this walk, we knew it was going to be big. I think each day has been a learning experience about how big it really is.
“Just to be recognized and honoured with this gift is just like, it blows my mind. I don’t even have the words to express all the emotions that I’m feeling.”
Keeshig said she is very proud of the walkers and has seen them “grow into beautiful human beings.”
Initially the plan was to walk across the country in a year and by do so, bring awareness to Canada about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. But that movement has added men to that group because many of them are missing too.
The impetus for the walk grew from the experience Keeshig and Emmerson had during a water walk, when Emmerson said “This is what I want to do. How can we go about doing that, bring that awareness to those missing women?”
They travelled to the Assembly of First Nations in Regina and asked for its members’ support so all First Nations would know the walk was moving forward and awareness would be raised over this issue.
Emmerson told The Sun Times a couple of days into the walk it was needed to give voice to those families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls who are unhappy with the federal inquiry established to look into the issue.
The journey has been documented on the Facebook page, Danamaamin moseyang giwganchigaazjig kwewag, with route details, photos and podcasts and a means of donating to fund the walk.
The YMCA here has honoured 22 people and 10 groups whose values have been shared with those which inspired the Peace Medal: Participation, Empathy, Advocacy, Community, Empowerment. This year’s other Peace Medal nominees are described on the Y’s Facebook page.
Peace Medal committee member Michael McLuhan, citing the submission from nominators David McLaren and Rhonda Flanagan, described how the Prayer Walkers’ journey fit the Y’s Peace Medal criteria.
They participate on Facebook, sharing videos sometimes, and introducing each woman and child who has died or gone missing, showcasing empathy by sharing their stories and, as Emmerson has said, not to solve the situation but to “bring hope.”
They advocate for increased support for indigenous solutions to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, strengthening community ties along their walk, and by adding new walkers, they’re building a circle of empowerment.
The 2018 YMCA Peace Medal went to Carlene Keeshig, fourth from right, who accepted the award on behalf of three others who are known as Prayer Walkers on a trans-Canada walk to honour and remember missing Aboriginal men, women and girls. From the left, Gayle Graham, Y chief executive officer, medal committee members Michael McLuhan and Gwynne Potter (president of the Y board of directors), Carlene Keeshig, Rosina Byrne, peace medal committee and Y staff, Alex Allen, Y fundraising staff, and medal committee member Brian Minielly, on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018 in Owen Sound.
Carlene Keeshig holds the 2018 YMCA Peace Medal on behalf of the Prayer Walkers, who are on a trans-Canada walk in the name of missing and murdered Indigenous men, women and girls, after the award was presented at the Owen Sound Y on Thursday in Owen Sound.