As Idle No More, a movement to protect Treaty rights and the environment in Canada, continues to grow, mainstream media largely ignores many of its highlights. Among these overlooked events, is the journey of the Nishiyuu Walkers. On March 25, a group of First Nations youth arrived in Ottawa after marching 1600 kilometers from Northern Quebec.
The journey began on January 17 when 6 youth and their guide from Whapmagoostui First Nation decided to travel to Ottawa by foot. By marching through historical trade routes, they wanted to send a clear message to both other First Nations and the rest of Canada that everyone is capable of accomplishing goals if they unite. They also want to show that they are determined to continue fighting for the right to maintain their land and traditions. As it is stated in their mission statement: “this Quest-Journey will establish and unite our historical allies and restore our traditional trade routes with the Algonquin, Mohawk and other First Nations. The time for Unity is now”.
The term “Nishiyuu” means “human beings” according to Cree legends. The youth chose this name as it represented “the interconnectedness of all life, as well as the oneness of time within which all life begins and ends, includes reference to all humanity.” Over the course of the journey, the original seven individuals sent messages and progress updates to other communities through social networks and their official website.
For instance, one of their letters to chiefs and reserves communities stressed that they will be assimilated and lose their cultural identities if they do not fight against the government legislation bills that were poised to affect their lands. As they walked to Ottawa, they were joined by more Aboriginal youth, braving freezing temperatures.
As they reached Ottawa the Nishiyuu walkers amounted to be over 400 and hoped to meet with Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister chose priority on the “panda diplomacy” and traveled to Toronto to receive the two Pandas on loan from China. Harper missed an opportunity to honour and give full attention to the young Walkers and to build a better relationship with First Nations. On the other hand, pandas are a symbol of friendship, peace, and diplomatic relations between Canada and China. This relationship is an important one for Canada because this symbol goes beyond politics as it honours the personal and cultural Chinese connections with the Chinese Canadian communities; and which may help Canada move away from the “yellow” phobia.
Nevertheless, we believe the group of Nishiyuu Walkers deserved respect and should have been welcomed by Stephen Harper. Their courageous journey symbolizes the struggle that many youth are going through, one that is full of difficulties to find their identity and to fight for their rights. Their actions have inspired a whole nation with their determination and they accurately delivered their message of justice and autonomy. The Nishiyuu journey demonstrates the potential power of youth when they take matters into their hands in determining their futures.