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Step by step, Islanders of many backgrounds walked through the wind and rain on March 29 in an act of remembrance and healing.
Together, they crossed the causeway linking Lennox Island with the rest of P.E.I. and contemplated a time not so long ago when that journey was far from easy.
In the summer it meant a journey by boat; in the winter, it meant a dangerous, sometimes even fatal, walk across the ice.
“(There was) really a sense of real support and a sense of really wanting to move forward together,” said Sen. Brian Francis, who attended the walk. “So I felt that mostly to be very powerful.”
Francis is no stranger to the ice walk of the past. He grew up in Lennox Island before the 1973 construction of the causeway and had made the trip multiple times to access basic goods and services like groceries and doctor’s appointments. Although it never happened to him, Francis had seen people fall through the ice while crossing.
For Francis, it was significant that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike came together for what he called a “historic event.” Many non-Indigenous people, he said, remain unaware of residential schools, let alone the ice walk. The walk, he said, gave people a chance to learn history and listen to the Mi’kmaq of Lennox Island tell their stories.
“Everyone has the part to play in meaningful reconciliation,” he said. “And I think what we saw there was a powerful event that showed that, yes, let’s move forward in this.”
Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey was one of many non-Indigenous people invited to the walk.
“It was important for people like myself, and the other elected officials (to be) able to participate in that so you don’t forget,” he said. “I find every time that I participate in an event at Lennox Island … it gives me a greater appreciation for the Mi’kmaq culture and traditions.”
Initially, the walk was going to take place on the ice, from Port Hill to Lennox Island. Due to the warming weather and melting ice, though, the event had moved to the causeway.
At the top of the causeway, Methilda Knockwood-Snache, a Mi’kmaq elder, gave a speech on the importance of water. Those in attendance would also have to carry a cup of water on the walk for the water ceremony.
“We respect the water, we respect all things,” Knockwood-Snache told the walkers before the event. “If it wasn’t for the water, we wouldn’t have food, we wouldn’t have fish in the water.”
The water, she said, was not to be spilled or drank until the walk ended at the John J. Sark Memorial School.
In addition to the water, those walking the causeway were also given tobacco to hold in their left hand – “because that’s that hand that’s closest to your heart,” Knockwood-Snache told the crowd.
The walk itself was held in silence, in memory of those who died crossing the ice. The only noise permitted, aside from nature and the sound of feet on the pavement, was the sound of the jingles on the dresses of two Lennox Island community members who led the walk.
Upon arrival at the school, the walkers were free to drink their water, giving thanks to the thunder spirits. Then, participants walked up to the sacred fire, tossed their tobacco into the flames and silently prayed to the creator for whatever came to mind, and for help in achieving reconciliation.
The event, Francis said, was a good first step toward reconciliation, acknowledging the past and learning how to move forward. He hopes that the walk, and the documentary that will follow, will help create awareness and lead to change in P.E.I. and beyond.
“It was poignant and emotional,” said Francis. “It’s not always easy to speak about the hardships and inequalities that we’ve experienced. However, these stories need to be told to make way for truth and healing and forgiveness.”
Kristin Gardiner is the Journal Pioneer's rural reporter.
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