Following a successful event walking the distance of Eeyou Istchee communities last year, students at Waapinichikush Elementary School and James Bay Eeyou School in Chisasibi are walking the virtual distance of the entire Quebec Innu territory.
The original Walk to School project began in 2018 as a collaboration between Waapinichikush Elementary School and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay to increase physical activity (students, teachers, school staff, as well as the parents, guardians, family, grandparents, etc.). The school decided to expand the initiative to promote physical activity over an extended period of time after encouragement from the Health Board, explained school leader of the project Josée-Anne Brassard.
"The idea of walking to school was also to reconnect with the traditional way of traveling through the land. Within four days our school walked the distance equivalent to walking between each Eeyou Itschee community -- eleven-hundred kilometres!" Brassard said.
The idea of collective walks on traditional pathways was further inspired by Innu physician Dr. Stanley Vollant. In 1994, Vollant became the first Aboriginal surgeon born in Québec, and he now works to inspire youth about the importance of education and healthy habits.
At the end of the 2018 event, the students sent a message to Dr. Vollant’s foundation Puamun Meskenu to thank them for inspiring the school project. Dr. Vollant responded with a video message offering to visit Chisasibi.
On Friday, June 7, 2019, Dr. Stanley Vollant visited Chisasibi to conclude the students' Innu walk by speaking with them about the importance of being proud to be Eeyouch and to take one step forward and look ahead, not behind.
"Dr. Vollant also asked everybody to create a hands-chain with their neighbours. Then, with eyes closed, he asked us to think about our dreams," Brassard explained.
Dr. Vollant collected the dreams - about 650 of them - into his "stick of dreams" bringing his total dream stick count to more than 22 thousand!