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Walkers for Truth and Reconciliation
Each of the walkers have their own personal reasons for committing to the journey - that being said, each of them have in common a single goal - to make the communities a better, healthier place children and youth. To read their bios, scroll down or click on each of the Walkers' names listed here:
Patrick Etherington Jr.
Frances R. Whiskeychan
Patrick Etherington Jr. - a 28-year-old man, a member of the Moose Cree First Nation has participated in previous walks before including last year when he walked with his father Patrick Etherington Sr. to attend the first TRC National Event. When asked why he is participating in the 2,200 km walk to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Patrick Jr. had this to say: "I'm doing it for the Survivors - but more for the youth. There is a big problem with suicide in my community. The youth are lost. I think the reason for suicide is indirectly linked to residential school. When our parents went to residential school they became hard, they didn't know how to love and they passed this on to us. I don't want to pass this on to my kids." Patrick went on to say that he is walking also to support his father and that even if their efforts bring awareness to even a few people then they will have succeeded in their walk.
Robert Hunter - a 29-year-old man, a member of the Peawanuk First Nation, a community located in northern Ontario along the coast of Hudson Bay, the son of a Survivor, is currently participating in his third walk. Robert first walked with his friends Patrick Sr., Patrick Jr., and Samuel Koosees in 2005 for a walk regarding youth awareness, walking from Cochrane to Alberta. When asked by Patrick Sr. to participate in this walk, Robert didn't hesitate to join his friends again. "I'm walking for Residential School Survivors. I'm walking for my community and I'm walking for those that passed on in Residential School. A relative of mine passed on in Residential School - I'm walking because it hits home." Robert's relative, Charlie Hunter passed away over 30 years ago while attending residential school. A service is being held in Peawanuk First Nation on August 17, 2011, to commemorate Charlie's return home.
James Kioke - a 27-year-old man, a member of the Attawapiskat First Nation, is the son and grandson of Survivors. After speaking with the organizer Patrick Sr. and learning about the death of his uncle John who died while attending residential school, James felt compelled to join the walk. James says the walk has been a positive experience for him as he struggles to cope with addictions: "I've been off drugs for a month now - the walk is helping me, too." James draws strength from his father and grandmother: "My dad told me not to give up. And when I talked to my granny she told me how proud she was of what I'm doing." James went on to say: "I'm doing it for my community. I'm trying my hardest to not give up."
James is also doing the walk for his four children: Charisa Sutherland, James Jr., Janet Kioke and Jamie Kioke.
Samuel Koosees - a 21-year-old man, a member of the Attawapiskat First Nation, Samuel is the youngest of the walkers. Samuel's parents and grandparents attended residential school. This is Samuel's second walk. He first joined his friends Patrick Sr., Patrick Jr., and Robert five years ago on a walk for youth awareness. Samuel draws a link between the legacy of residential school and the suffering that is happening in First Nations communities: "We're really trying to raise awareness and draw attention to what's happening. People don't understand or they can't look at what's happening - suicides - mostly from drinking. I see what's happening and I want it to stop."
Samuel has lost a number of family members to alcohol-related deaths. When asked why he is walking, Samuel says he is walking for change: "I'm ready to get people to understand what's going on, families falling apart. We're losing each other because of alcohol. We need to learn to love one another again."
Frances R. Whiskeychan - a mother, grandmother, Survivor, as well as the daughter of a Survivor, and a member of the Waskaganish First Nation. Francis is walking "for the women. I was thinking of all the women that have been murdered and passed on. We have to give them acknowledgement of who they were and what they were about."
Francis attended the Moose Factory Residential School for several years. Throughout her life she has suffered abuse and it is in spite of the abuse and because of her resilience that she has survived. Francis has been on her healing journey for the past 20 years, during this time she returned to school and obtained her Social Work Degree from the First Nations Technical Institute. She has worked as a counselor for over 10 years and for approximately the same time she has been a partner to Patrick Sr.
Francis participated in last year's walk but was unable to finish due to illness: "I got pneumonia during the last walk. I wouldn't allow myself to feel - only anger. Now I'm allowing myself to feel. I'm talking about my feelings. I have to." For a long time, Francis says she was angry with her mother: "I used to always wonder why my mother never gave me anything and then I realized she gave me everything. She told me ‘it’s not right what you're doing’. Right after residential school I was very angry and had a lot of resentment...what she told me was to look after your children and she told me it wasn't my fault." Francis appreciated hearing those words from her mother.
Today she continues on her healing journey and is walking to honour all those women that have passed on to the Spirit World.