A group of 30 walkers, trekking from Edmonton to Calgary to bridge a gap in understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, stopped in Lacombe last Thursday.
The Walk for Common Ground – a 15-day, 350-kilometre journey that began on May 31 – is aimed at educating people about treaties signed between what they refer to as settlers and First Nations in 1876 and 1877, and what they mean to First Nations, all in effort to find a way to move forward together on Indigenous issues.
“There is a lot of hope things will change,” said Diana Steinhauer, a member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory and one of the core walkers.
“I would say the fact people are walking and talking and getting to understand the issues, realizing different points of view caused them to see things from a different lens. It just means we need to go deeper until we can get to a place of common understanding and to me, that’s what this walk is about.”
The Walk for Common Ground followed the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights in Ontario which saw walkers journey from Kitchener to Ottawa. The pilgrimage was featured in the 50-minute documentary, “Treaty Talk: Sharing the River of Live,” which was aired during the session.
Produced by one of the walkers, Dr. Patricia Makokis, the film highlighted racism and discrimination against First Nations that resulted in the residential school system and what is now being referred to as a cultural genocide. It also explained the importance of the treaties and how they should be beneficial to Indigenous and non-indigenous alike.
The film also spurred the Walk for Common Ground as a way to get the film out, with health care professionals, educators, faith leaders, First Nations, and “settlers” alike participating.
As of Thursday, one of their more memorable stops had been a stop in Maskwacis, where the walkers were brought into the community by Chief Wilton Littlechild, during a time when the community was hosting their own treaty talks conference.
“I’ve seen many things that might be seen as coincidences, but I think we’re being guided by spirits. That was most obvious to me when we were in Maskwacis,” said Steinhauer. “We got to see the treaty pipe stem – how impressive that our walk happened at the same time as treaty talks in Maskwacis on a date of convergence where we got to be present to the treaty pipe stem.
“I saw in the tipi our desires as First Nations people, Indigenous people to bring the circle of humanity together.”
It’s a sentiment universally shared amongst the walkers, including Allegra Friesen Epp, one of the walk’s non-Indigenous coordinators. Epp travelled from Winnipeg, in Treaty 1 territory, to participate.
She said she joined because she because she believes in embodying her beliefs through lived action, and said the walk has been a moving experience.
“It’s incredibly rich and overwhelming in the best sense of the word,” she said. “I think all of us are challenged to open ourselves to not only physical endurance, but emotional, mental, spiritual endurance and learning in this holistic approach, which I really value.”
As for the path forward on a national level, she believes it’s time to put recommendations put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee into action.
“I just really admire and thank those people for sharing their courage of what they went through and I know for some of the participants in that study, that was the first time they had shared their stories. Their willingness and and courage to bring that to the surface for the awareness and education for the rest of us is one factor and now we need to build,” she said.
“We have a long ways to go, but every little conversation we have gives me hope.”
As of Thursday, the walkers had travelled more than 130 km, and added another 25 km en route to Red Deer in much colder and snowier conditions than they had heading into Lacombe.
They will finish their walk June 14, in Calgary.
For more information, or to view the documentary, visit www.treatytalk.com/commongroundwalk.