On Saturday, Innu surgeon Dr. Stanley Vollant (that’s him on the left with Justin Trudeau and Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett) came to Ottawa on the latest leg of his Innu Meshkenu walking project, a five-year 6,000-kilometre series of walks between every First Nations community in eastern and central Canada. (This fall, he’s also doing some canoeing.) I joined Vollant and 15 or so others at Britannia Beach, their campsite on Friday night, and walked with the group to Parliament Hill, where they joined the annual Sisters in Spirt rally in honour of the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women. I have walked with and written about Vollant before, and it was wonderful to catch up with him and to see him lend his voice to the growing call for action to help this country’s indigenous women. As much as Vollant calls for a new relationship between the federal government and aboriginal people, his main message is that people need to have a dream, to believe in themselves, and to work toward their goals one step at the time. He’s on his way to the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve near Cornwall now, and in March, he’ll be walking 500 kilometres from the Innu reserve in Schefferville, Que., to the Inuit community of Kuujjuaq on Ungava Bay.
On Sunday night, with Vollant’s message very much in mind, I took a fire walking seminar at the Feng Shen Do martial arts compound east of Ottawa near Casselman (stock photo below — real pics from the evening to come, though that is Feng Shen Do founder and siju Jacques Patenaude, our teacher for the evening, at the bottom of the page). Fire walking, like Vollant’s project, is about overcoming obstacles, about conquering your fears. Yes, the coals we walked on were hot, and no, it did not hurt. I’m not sure what long-term impact the experience will have on me, but it was an important metaphorical threshold to cross, the final scene for the final chapter in my book — and I also enjoyed the way Patenaude and his family brought a sense of humour and celebration to what could have been a somber event. “The coals are ready,” his son Sylvain announced at one point, “and they’re really, really hot tonight.” Without missing a beat, Jacques’ wife Linda asked, “Should I bring the hose closer?”