By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor
June 8, 2016.“He’s creating awareness and support for Fort McMurray. We appreciate what he’s doing for our people,” said Courtoreille, who is also Chief of the Mikisew Cree Nation. Approximately 567 MCN members were evacuated from Fort McMurray on May 3 and at least 34 families lost their homes to the wildfire.
On May 9, Barkman, 26, from Sachigo Lake First Nation, Ontario, began walking from Sioux Lookout, Ontario, to raise awareness and money for evacuees affected by the fire. He is hoping to raise $20,000.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde joined Courtoreille in praising Barkman.
"I lift him up and fully support Mr. Barkman's efforts to bring badly needed support and attention to those in need," said Bellegarde in a statement.
Barkman is walking 2,080 km from Sioux Lookout to Fort McMurray. He’s covering about 60-70 km each day.
According to his Walk4FortMcMurray Facebook page, Barkman knows no one in Fort McMurray.
“No one deserves to lose their home, neighbourhood or even their town from this devastating wild fire,” he wrote.
Alberta Indigenous Relations says 64 homes owned by First Nations members were destroyed in the fire. It is unknown how many First Nations people are unable to return to their homes at this point in the neighbourhoods of Waterways, Beacon Hill and Abasand.
Approximately 88,000 people were forced from Fort McMurray, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation, Gregoire Lake Estates and Anzac in early May.
Even though voluntary phased-in re-entry began June 1, residents in Wood Buffalo Housing accommodations, which weren’t damaged by the fire, won’t be returning home before June 13. Some units won’t be habitable until as late as June 22.
Barkman said he was advised by his father to make the walk. Barkman’s father and cousin have joined him on the journey.
Courtoreille expects Barkman and his party to be in Edmonton on June 9 or 10. He will be joined by Treaty 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis in greeting Barkman. Courtoreille is also hoping to get Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Premier Rachel Notley involved.
“He’s a remarkable young man,” said Courtoreille.