Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk

Kinew Wab The Reason You WalkWab Kinew’s book, The Reason You Walk, Viking (Penguin Group) 2015, is a read that will give you a deeper appreciation for the experiences and eventual resignation tendered by The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould. (February 12, 2019) As an indigenous member of parliament much of what it entails being a member of the Liberal Party of Canada went contrary to her cultural roots. Kinew also gives some insight into why she did not simply sign onto another party despite being warmly invited.

Wab Kinew has given us a book with profound insight into living as an indigenous person in a dominant culture in which the quest for mutual understanding can be a life long quest. In the process he shares some insight that is applicable across cultural lines that forms the building blocks for a strong community, namely a strong family.

Excerpt #1

I asked him to repeat himself.

“If a son helps his father when he is sick, then his son will help him when he is old.”

Ndede had stood by his father in the residential school cemetery all those years ago. In turn , his son and daughters has stood beside him as he walked to the spirit world. Standing for him there, waiting on that side, were his two eldest boys. Now, in this place near the Gulf of Aden, on the other side of the planent from Lake of the Woods, another child stood beside his parent.

We stand by those who came before us, hoping that those who ome after us will honour us in the same way. We love, and we hope to be loved.

Whether we are young or old, whether our skin in  light or dark, whether we are man or woman, we share a common humanity and are all headed for a common destiny. That should bind us together more strongly than divisions can push us apart. So long as anything other than love governs our relationship with others, we have work to do.

When the division s win out, we need to work hard and bring that which has been broken apart back together again.

 We ought to recognize that our greatest battle is not with one another but with our pain, our our problems, and our flaws.

To be hurt, yet forgive. To do wrong, but forgive yourself. To depart from this world leaving only love.   (page 268 Wab Kinew 2015)

Excerpt #2

Wab Kinew explains the title of the book with four interrelated ideas:

In the little roundhouse in Wauzhushk Onigum, I had been taught the song when I was young. Kwekwekipinessiban explained the lyrics in Anishinaabemowin, and Ndedeiban (‘iban’ is added to the person’s name in referring to them after they have died.) translated the teaching to me. I had been told the four layers of meaning to the words “I am the reason you walk.” delivered as though it is God speaking to you. Now the Creator was speaking to my father.

I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk this earth.

I am the reason you walk. I gave you the motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.

I am the reason you walk. I animated you with the driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.

And now, my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk home to me on that everlasting road.

With a loud, echoing drumbeat, I brought the song to an end.

(page 252 Wab Kinew 2015)

Excerpt #3

Wab Kinew’s vision for the future against the background of colonization and the attempts to take the ‘Indian out of the person’ by way of the genocidal policies of the Indian Act that resulted in the ‘residential school system’  is a complex issue that puts a lot of responsibility on indigenous people.

Challenges remain. First Nations children begin life facing longer odds on the road to success than others, because they lack equal access to education , health care, and social services. We must correct these problems where they exist. Indigenous people must also take more responsibility for our own affairs, which is something most members of my generation strongly believe.

As a result of colonization, many Indigenous peoples have been prevented from contributing fully to our globalized society. Consequently, the Indigenous cultures practised by thoses peoples have not been able toshare their stength, wisdom, and beauty with the rest of the world.

I envision Indigenous people rising above their challenges to become the leaders this world desperately needs. I see them helping to chart the way to a more sustainable society and a more meaningful way of life.

Many solutions to the challenges of our time – from income inequality to environmental degradation – can be found in Indigenous cultures. If we start to see the earth as our mother, we will likely chart a course to a more environmentally friendly way of life.

If we grow up hearing that the chief ought to be the poorest member of the community and that true leadership is about service and sacrifice, we might think harder about income inequality.

And if people on opposite sides of seemingly intractable showdowns over land and resources began to take one another as kin, perhaps we might find peace in situations that we currently consider lost causes.

While there are political and economic lessons to heed, we cannot forget that, at its core, reconciliation is a spiritual and emotional journey.

My heart still aches for the man who walked ahead of me on this path, that man I see now only in visions. (page 266-7 Wab Kinew 2015)


Post cycling reflections

Portugal Cove, NL

This past summer I was on the road for 70 days. Starting on June 26 I was riding six days on, one day off. The 60 days of cycling gradually created a rhythm of it’s own.

The organized part

Initially the challenge of meeting the tour schedule, packing camp in the morning, getting breakfast, making lunch and gathering snacks for on the road was too challenging. It was the first time in over two years that I was on a rigorous schedule. Not only was I on a tight schedule but each step was critical for me to be prepared and equipped to ride for the day.

Eventually I more or less mastered daily hurdle of the rigorous morning routine. I was glad that getting accustomed to new routines was not impossible despite having difficulty with adjusting to new situations.

After the organized tour

Once I had completed the nine weeks with the organized tour I continued to cycle through one more province with two other cyclists. I wanted to include all ten provinces in my summer of 2017 ride. (I’ll have to do something about the missing three territories. But that’s for another day.)

Completing the supported tour and cycling with only two other riders made things much easier for me. I hadn’t realized how much my sensory loading was impacted each day simply by having 80 or so other people around me in camp and on the road.

The extra week of cycling Newfoundland had a negligible affect on my sensory loading. Riding with two other cyclists and having two support people meant there were fewer surprises and disruptions to my day. A more predictable day meant I needed minimal time to recover. This gave me more energy during the last part of each day.

The exception to experiencing reduced sensory loading was when we spent a day being shown around St. John’s. By mid afternoon I realized I needed to temper my activity level. By late afternoon I knew I needed to bow out. Pushing myself to a point were I would need a day or more to recover was not a good way to begin my trip back home.

Amazingly, my 16 hour ferry crossing of the Gulf of St. Lawrence went very well. That was despite having the ferry being battered by waves up to 10 meters high during most of the crossing. I experienced no noticeable sensory loading from that trip. In fact I slept quite soundly for most of the crossing.

Coming home

I had managed a summer long routine of being on a schedule and I had gradually fared better as the summer progressed. I was looking forward to a more relaxed schedule that comes with being at home.

With a more relaxed schedule of being at home I would be better able to manage my sensory loading. I didn’t need to push forward each morning to get cycling.

Unfortunately, a relaxed schedule after getting home didn’t happen. Very soon I was having to monitor myself more closely than I expected. I had hoped that my tolerance for sensory loading would improved over the summer.

Once I got home, I had left behind the simple life of cycling. I had left behind the simple life of doing one focused activity each day. All the routines that made up each day had one single purpose, support the bike riding.

Once I got home life became much more complex. I’m back home. That means there are bills to look after, there’s the yard work, there’s family to visit and more. Some things had been put off for the summer. Being home brought with it the full range of responsibilities.

One noticeable challenge I was once again reminded of is driving and riding in a car. A whole summer in which I probably covered less than 100 km in a car, while cycling over 7000 km. Once again I need to be mindful of the fatigue and nausea that come with riding in a car.

While my physical endurance has improved over the summer, I will continue to monitor the various activities that add significantly to my sensory loading. What I am grateful for is realizing that I can take somewhat of a holiday from having to manage my sensory loading. It’s not a holiday from work, but nevertheless, a necessary holiday that I need from time to time.

With the family gone to a music festival in town, I will head over there shortly on my own. I will cycle down there. I will likely need to leave after about a half hour. I will enjoy the bit of time my brain can endure. I will value the memory of being there albeit only for a short time. When I’ve reached my limit I’ll cycle the 25 km back home.

Journey Across My Canada

Start of this journey

I find it fitting that my goal of cycling across Canada which took just under four years to complete ended during the Canada 150 commemorations. In those four years I have experienced significant personal changes.

I started my ride across Canada on September 28 in 2013 in Victoria. Victoria is the starting point or end point of the Trans-Canada highway. That was a one day ride that I did with one of my colleagues.

On June 26 in 2017 I continued that journey with Sea to Sea. That part of my ride went on for 64 more days. This part included about 80 other cyclists who rode parts of the journey and about 50 other riders who rode all the way to Halifax.

On August 30, the day after arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia I continued the journey for 5 more days. This part of the ride included 2 other cyclists who rode along to St.John’s, Newfoundland ending at Cape Spear, the most eastern point in Canada, on September 3, 2017.


Finishing in Newfoundland was a fitting way to end the cross Canada journey through all ten provinces during the Canada 150 year. Even though Newfoundland came late, joining Confederation in 1949, this makes the cross Canada ride complete.

This is not meant to overlook the 3 territories, Yukon, North West and Nunavut. Cycling through them would be a whole new level of cycling. There isn’t a continuous road connecting the three territories.

Crossing Canada at some point from the southern border to the Arctic Ocean is possible now that the Yukon Territory has completed a highway to the north coast.

Tasting a thin slice

Having crossed Canada from West to east only represents a thin slice of an amazing country with such diversity in terrain and more significant a diversity in people.

As a country with two official languages, that simply doesn’t do justice to the multitude of languages spoken in Canada.

There are quite a number of different languages spoken by the various First Nations communities in Canada who have lived on this land from time immemorial (as one Nation in Nova Scotia identifies themselves). Only one province in Canada, namely New Brunswick has a beginning sense of inclusiveness by being officially bi-lingual. In my understanding, of the territories, Nunavut is the only territory that operates with two official languages.

My language experience in Newfoundland is even more unique in that they speak English but have unusual variations of it. The variation includes expressions that most people from away would simply not understand. Also, depending on which part of Newfoundland one is from words are spoken differently, adding letters or omitting letters when it is spoken.

Identity is key

Language gives a community a unifying identity. Language is a key factor in capturing a culture and a people.

My sense has always been that when people are comfortable with their identity they have a greater acceptance and appreciation of other groups, cultures and diversity of view points. Those are important qualities for people to be able to live at peace with each other.

Canada is a confederation. A confederation only works when people choose to work together and value what others have to offer.

Even though my journey across Canada has been a very thin slice it has raised my appreciation for this country I call home and want to see the diversity within unity thrive by learning from each other.

Stories breathe life

The most effective way we learn from each other is by listening to each other’s stories.

In my journey across Canada I heard an interesting comment about sharing stories.

Within one of the cultures in Canada, they do not want a story electronically recorded. The reason being that a story is something alive. You lose it when you try to capture it.

It is only in the telling that a story stays alive. Each time a story is shared the ambiance where it is shared, the mood of the group in receiving the story, the intent of the story teller in sharing it and many other factors is different each time a story is shared. With each telling the story comes alive.

I want to live in a country where each community, each ethnic group or nation is proud to keep their stories alive. They might be stories of celebrations or of pain. In sharing a story one is sharing a sense of hope for themselves, their community or their country. Sharing stories is what I believe would make the Canada 150 celebrations successful.

What stories will you share about the community you identify with?

Four Days of Backpacking – reflections about the ride #2

Algonguin Lookout
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a 4 day backpacking excursion with sixteen 12 year old students. We started out with ideal fall weather, cool nights and daytime temperatures in the low 20’s. Being outfitted for 4 days of backpacking is more challenging than a walk in the park. You can’t go 4 days unless you have a good supply of food, tents, water purifying equipment, rain gear etc.

Preparing young students for living in today’s society requires educational experiences that go beyond the walls of the classroom. Bringing 16 young students away from the supports of home requires them to make some adjustments. Being away from running water, away from ready cooked meals,  away from clean drinking water on demand, away from a house that protects them from the elements, creates some memorable learning opportunities.

On a more superficial level, though no less important, the backpacking trip creates an opportunity to learn skills such as fire building, basic first aid, packing and fitting a backpack, orienteering and map reading. While these would be considered survival skills, they could probably be taught equally well in a classroom. However, when some of these skills are taught ‘in the field’ they take on a greater urgency when it is on a ‘need to know’ basis (though we hope it doesn’t come to that).

The backpacking trip extends to teaching the young students some essential life skills that would be applicable in many other situations. The skills relate to living in community. While in the bush, the students realize they need to depend on each other. That requires them to look out for each other and offer assistance when needed. (The adults are there to guide them, not bail them out.)

The first evening was an interesting situation. The students were sitting around the campfire pit, talking and laughing. However, it was approaching supper time and no one was making a move to gather firewood and get a cooking fire started. On the urging of one of the adults to get firewood and what was needed for kindling an interesting thing happened. Two students stood up to begin gathering firewood. The other eight students just sat there. They seemed to expect that the camp fire thing would somehow happen. Only after a very pointed instruction that everyone needed to help get firewood, did the rest of the students get up and being the job of gathering.

A similar lesson needed to be learned for preparing for cooking, getting the bear bag ready for the night, setting up tents, putting backpacks away so personal effects wouldn’t get rained on, taking down and packing the tents in the morning and so on.

The students gradually began to realize the importance of planning ahead, seeing what they could do to contribute to their own needs and to the needs of the whole group.

The goal was to bring the students to the undertanding that they needed to initiate the next step. The students needed to come to the point of realizing that an adult, whether a parent or someone else, wasn’t going to necessarily tell them what needed to be done.

Part of the learning process was having a couple of student leaders assigned each day to take charge. The student leaders would be briefed on what needed to be done that day. It was then their job to organize what needed to be done and then delegate the various tasks to the other students.

The student leaders were faced with a number of challenges, the least of which might have been getting fellow students to follow through on what they were asked to do.

The backpacking experience offers opportunities to create object lessons. Students were reminded to distribute the food and cooking utensils when they were packing up so that the load would be distributed evenly. One day, after asking students whether this was happening, we asked all the students to line up, drop their packs, take a step forward and pick up their neighbour’s pack. The next 20 minutes of hiking was an eye opener for some of the students.

In taking a  group of young students on a hiking excursion there are some interesting observations that can be gleaned.

1. Empowerment: There are skills one would expect a 12 year old to have mastered. When the opportunities to learn those skills are taken away from them there is a learned helplessness. It might be more efficient for an adult to do a particular task, but what is lost is the opportunity for a student to learn a new skill. What is lost is the opportunity to empower a child.

2. Contributing: At age 12, children are capable and in a position to make valuable contributions. Through words of encouragement students begin to realize and appreciate the difference they can make when they contribute to the needs of a group.

3. Empathy: Learning to recognize the need to lend a hand or help someone comes from learning to observe what is happening. From there developing a sense of empathy and understanding leads to specific actions.

4. Accomplishment: It is interesting to watch a student struggle with their pack over a four day period. In that time suggestions were made on how to balance a pack or make adjustments on the straps. However, when the same student was met on the trail by another adult who offered to carry the pack, the student chose to complete the last kilometer of the hike carrying his full pack. The sense of accomplishment was clearly evident.

Poverty relates to a loss of community and each person’s place and role. The experience of a four day backpacking trip helps students experience a variety of elements that makes for a community. When all they have to depend on for 4 days is each other, some real learning and growth begins to happen.

Living In God’s Pocket – A Lesson from Del Barber

Last fall I had the privilege of listening to Del Barber (www.delbarber.com) a singer/songwriter from Manitoba. He was an invited artist to the Shelter Valley Folk Festival. (www.sheltervalley.com)  Del is a Juno nominee who shares a worldview of critique and hope that makes one take note and listen. His story telling and introductions between songs were punctuated with a phrase that captured the sense of being in a place where things are good. It being Labour Day, with the weather being warm, enjoying good company, listening to uplifting music, having good food and drink, he commented … “This is what it must feel like to be living in God’s pocket.” It’s a phrase that he learned from his father.

Many times since that weekend I have found myself in situations and thought, “This is what it must be like to be living in God’s pocket.”

I was so touched by this phrase that I had Del Barber autograph a CD with this phrase and had the foresight to get his verbal permission to use it – if that counts for anything.