It was a day for little steps, and Adam McDonald had been taking little steps for two months. McDonald is a "walker," and has now walked, with his brother Stanley, from Fort McMurray to Winnipeg. They are Ottawa-bound.
"When I first started out on May 29, I was just hoping to go for a good little walk. Then after the second day, that’s when I heard about the 215 children all the way from Kamloops, B.C. That devastated me. That traumatized me," he said.
After a rush of inspiration from the "Great Spirit," all his negativity lifted, said McDonald. But he couldn’t just let it rest, after hearing about "the hurt that innocent children have endured" in residential schools. So he set out to pick a fight with Ottawa and to help unite his Indigenous relatives.
"I hope that this trip accomplishes solidarity for my people," he said.
McDonald was at Vimy Ridge Memorial Park Sunday. About 100 people gathered in Vimy Ridge Park Sunday, many clad in orange shirts with "Every Child Matters" written on them. Jingle dress and fancy shawl dancers hopped on deft toes — the oldest was about 70, with white and black hair pulled back tight into braids; the youngest was maybe four years old, and she hopped up and down in a clumsy imitation of the teenage girls she followed. They were holding a pop-up powwow and barbecue.
Cars lined up along the park and orange ribbons hung off their antennas and mirrors. One van was covered in orange handprints and the number 5414 painted on a side window.
A little girl walked up to McDonald holding her mother’s hand and shyly held up a gift of $120 to help McDonald and his brother along the way. McDonald’s face brightened as he thanked the little girl. Others walked up to McDonald and offered him gifts of money and tobacco. Someone had given the brothers running shoes, and someone else had given them eagle’s feathers.
"All that we’re getting here on this ground, it’s such an honour," said McDonald. "I appreciate all the support that we have been getting across the country. Right from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And we’re not done yet."
One of the organizers of the pow-wow was only 17. Cierra Roulette, clad in a bright blue fancy shawl dress and a beaded crown, gave an impassioned speech to the crowd. Afterward, tears streamed down her face.
She said residential school survivors had told her to organize an event when she asked what she could do.
"I’m very proud," Roulette said. "I’m so happy right now because of the support for our survivors."
Roulette went off and prepared herself to dance.
Tara Martinez was another organizer. She said they wanted to make sure people continue to talk about Indigenous issues. She’s worried about a fall off in public discourse since the original discovery of children’s bodies in Kamloops.
"They’re treating it like a trend. It’s not a trend," she said. "We have priests in Winnipeg saying that our parents are lying. My mom’s not lying. My mom’s from the sixties scoop. She’s not lying. She lost her language. She was placed with a pedophile."
She said when she heard about Father Rhéal Forest’s comments in which he accused survivors of lying about sexual assault for financial gain, she cried.
But Sunday provided a glimmer of hope, as she surveyed the crowd of people in orange shirts, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
"It’s beautiful," she said. "We’re not going to sweep this under the rug anymore."