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A walk unlike any other

By Marites N. Sison, staff writer on October, 27 2011

SPECIAL REPORT: TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
Patrick Etherington, Sr. (left) and his son, Patrick Etherington, Jr. Photo: Marites N. Sison

Halifax—There were many lonely moments for Patrick Etherington Jr., 28 as he walked 2,200 kilometers across eastern Canada to attend the Atlantic National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) here.

Etherington Jr., a member of the Moose Cree First Nation, made the trip, which lasted a grueling 42 days, from Cochrane, Ont.

Walking with him was his father, Patrick, Sr., and a group of five companions made up of residential school survivors and their children.

Robert Hunter, 29, is a member of the Peawanuk First Nation in northern Ontario. James Kioke, 27, is a member of the Attawapiskat First Nation of James Bay, Ont.; Frances R. Whiskeychan, is a member of the Waskaganish First Nation, Que.; and Samuel Koosees, 21, is a member of Attawapiskat First Nation. Everyone, with the exception of Koosees, completed the walk, arriving here to a hero’s welcome on Oct. 26.

Many times along the route, Etherington Jr. felt his legs become leaden as cars zipped past. He found himself wondering what passersby must be thinking about “these crazy Indians walking by the side of the road.” What kept him going, he says, was the conviction that he was walking for something “bigger than myself” -- the survivors of residential schools and all their descendants.

“There is a big problem of suicide in my community,” Etherington Jr. told a debriefing session. “I walked for my buddies who did it [committed suicide] and for those who have attempted it.”

Although at times, “we would get sick of each other,” confessed Etherington, Jr., the trip made it possible for him to see, for the first time, the beauty of the land of his ancestors and the honour of the people walking with him. “It was a humbling experience.”

His companions told stories of similar feelings. The walk “really touched me,” said Kioke, whose father and grandmother were residential school survivors. “They told me not to give up.”

Kioke, a father of four who has been struggling with addiction, fought back tears as he told listeners about the difficulty he had finishing the walk. “The walk forced me to confront who I really am,” said Kioke.

Etherington Sr., who organized this walk, said it was important to have the youth participate to raise awareness about the “survivors of the survivors” -- the children and grandchildren raised in dysfunctional families by parents abused in residential schools. “This can’t go any further,” he said. “The cycle has to end now.”

Whiskeychan, the only woman in the group, said that as they passed aboriginal communities along the journey, she thought about “how it used to be, when the natives were moving from camp to camp and about how they would meet and greet each other, how kind and generous the different tribes were.”

Overcome with emotion, she recalled how her parents had lived off the land and how she was separated from them at the age of six, when she was forced to attend the Anglican-run residential school in Moose Factory, Ont.

Whiskeychan found the walk extremely difficult. “The road made a lot of feelings come out,” said Whiskeychan, who had never been allowed to speak at school and suffered physical abuse. “There’s a lot of work ahead for me.”

The son of a survivor, Hunter said he was “honoured and very grateful” to walk. Hunter completed a walk for the first TRC event in Winnipeg last year with the Etheringtons.

Etherington, Jr. said he found this year’s journey “harder, but deeper.” He said he doesn’t think he could have survived what his father and others went through. “You’re still here,” he told them at the debriefing. “I did this walk for you and I chose to do it for you.”

Along the route, the walkers were billeted and fed by many, including  the bishop of the diocese of Quebec, Dennis Drainville.

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October, 27 2011
Categories:  News|Special Report

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