Calvin Nepinak has expensive proof his 13-year-old daughter was on a lengthy trip this spring: His Rogers cell phone bill was $1,970, the result of numerous father-daughter calls as the youngster walked from Winnipeg to Ottawa.
"It was worth the money," Nepinak said Monday. "She’s my little girl. She out there walking across the country. Of course I wanted to talk to her."
Alyssa Nepinak, a Grade 7 student at A.E. Wright school, left Winnipeg on March 28, part of an environmental group supporting the aims of the Idle No More movement. She was among the youngest of the Youth4Lakes walkers.
Yesterday afternoon, she stood on the steps of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.
"I’m excited, I guess," she said. "Nervous. I can’t believe we’re here."
The walk changed her, she said. "It meant a lot," she said. "I feel more into my culture because of all the elders we met along the way."
Walkers face racial slurs
The 2,000-kilometre walk was dedicated to raising awareness of the need to protect lakes and rivers and preserve indigenous and treaty rights of First Nations, according to the group’s Facebook page.
When the group left town in March, the walkers faced racial taunts and slurs along the way.
"They wouldn’t serve us in a restaurant," the young teen said at the time in a telephone interview from Kenora. "A guy said some things at a gas station."
Those things, said Calvin Nepinak, included a man rolling down his window and shouting at his then-12-year-old daughter.
"He said, ‘Get an effing job, you effing Indian,’" Nepinak said. "Why would he say that to a kid?"
But Nepinak said the walk and the lessons his young daughter learned were worth the exhaustion and the worn pairs of shoes. There were support vehicles with the walkers, he said, but they were expected to put boots to pavement the whole way.
"It’s been good," said the proud father. "She’s kind of sad because it’s all over. She got close to all these people. But I told her it’s not the end. I told her it’s just the beginning."
He said there were plenty of times when he wanted to pull his young daughter from the epic walk.
"I didn’t want to break her heart. I knew if I brought her home she’d never forgive me. But I was lonesome. She was 12 when she left. I wanted her with me."
'Young people need a voice'
Alyssa gave a careful, impassioned speech on the grounds of the Parliament buildings.
"Our leaders both in government and in our own communities are not on the same page," said the girl, wearing toque designed to look like a panda’s head. "The young people need a voice."
Calvin Nepinak said the lessons his child learned go beyond the environmental or the political.
"She learned how to be humble. It gave her some motivation. It sure gives different meaning to going for a walk."
"This has actually opened a lot of doors for her. She met a lot of people. She heard different ideas. This is just the beginning for her."
One of the unexpected bonuses, says the proud father, is that a Facebook video of Alyssa singing has attracted national attention.
"Some people from Toronto saw her sing The Cup Song (a popular ditty on YouTube) and they visited her on the road. They want to fly her to Toronto to perform after she gets back to Winnipeg."
The teen will arrive home Friday, travelling by train from Ottawa. Her father won’t be at Union Station to greet her.
"I’ve got to go up north for work," he laughed. "Those roaming charges were crazy. I’ve got a cell phone bill to pay off!"