By Andrea Smith
Janet Day is walking… Walking to Unite Families. This is what she calls the journey she embarked upon at 11 a.m. today, April 5.
Day is walking to Thunder Mountain, Ont., a sacred ceremonial site her people are from. She will end her walk with a four-day fast.
The journey is 2,784 kilometers long, and Day is motivated by her personal experience with the child welfare system.
“I am walking to build an open forum and create dialogue with the youth and families that may be struggling within the system. I want to invite all my friends and family to come to help support the walk for our families, to unite with love and to ask questions from our communities… To create open forum of how we can move forward,” she said.
Day spent the past few years trying to gain custody of her niece, and then fighting to have custody returned to her brother (her niece’s father).
It was a long and frustrating battle, and she was subjected to mental health assessments, was denied the ability to travel home to Serpent River, Ont. while her niece was in her care, and had to watch her brother fall apart then rebuild himself through addictions treatment.
But she is making this walk knowing she has been victorious, because her brother is now sober, and his daughter has been given back to him.
Day left for her walk carrying a backpack full of water and toilet paper, and a stick adorned with prayer ties, ribbons, and a jingle from her niece’s jingle dress.
And she leaves feeling hopeful for the future, she said.
“The ribbons signify colors… the cultural coordinator from Boyle Street, Gary, offered the stick and said the colors represent the people of Boyle Street… and the poverty issues, addictions, and the homelessness. He said the four colors represent myself for protection and guidance along my journey,” said Day.
“The jingle is because part of the teachings is that when a jingle comes off a baby’s dress, to give it to somebody that needs it, because they’re so pure. I kept this one and it’s going to help with my walk,” she said.
Day plans to stop at 7 p.m. tonight. She has no idea where, but says she is okay if she has to sleep on the ground. A group of women—her Sun Dance family—will meet with her on the highway during some of her travels, and her brother (not the one she helped with the custody battles) will follow her in a van the entire way, ensuring her safety.
Day says she is open to being invited into different communities to stay some evenings as well, but has no intention of pushing her way in. She will go where is asked to, she said.
And she’ll be documenting her journey and updating her Facebook page as she goes along, so people can keep track of her or get a hold of her there.
“It’ll be a long walk, but it’ll be worth it,” she said.
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief of Alberta, Craig Makinaw, and Day’s friend Crystal Auger went out to support Day as she left. Mackinaw feels Day is making an important contribution to First Nations people and their struggles.
“What she is doing is good for all of us. We need more awareness with our issues and to start dealing with them now,” he said.
“Child Welfare is one of them, the 60’s scoop is another… Indian residential schools and the TRC recommendations… I wish her and the walkers good luck and prayers on their journey… Our prayers will be with them,” he said.
Auger was to walk with Day for a while for support. Auguer says she has found Day inspirational since meeting her and hearing her story just a few months ago. Auger, too, is happy and hopeful about the cause.
“I hope people see that you can make a change if you just take that first step to begin. I’m just one person and I feel like I can’t make a change, but Janet made me feel like it takes just one person. I really wanted to be part of that. I’m honored to be here, and walk with her a few steps,” she said.
Day’s Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/unitingourfamilies/
She can also be texted at 705-988-5767, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org