David Bighetty capped off a nearly 1,000-kilometre journey that began in Leaf Rapids the day after Canada Day before by arriving in Winnipeg slightly ahead of schedule July 31.
However, the event that originally triggered Bighetty’s walk took place in Granville Lake back in 2003, when the entire community was evacuated due to unsanitary conditions caused by failed water and sewage systems.
When Bighetty made a quick pit stop in Thompson on July 7, he told the Thompson Citizen that many original Granville Lake residents like himself have been unable to return to their ancestral homelands since the evacuation because of inaction and corruption on part of the local and provincial governments.
“I want to go home but I can’t because the construction of the housing is not there, water and sewer is not there, the facilities they have in Leaf Rapids are not there and I want that in my hometown too,” he said at that time.
Bighetty’s goal was to bring this message to the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg, in the hopes of garnering more attention from government officials and the public at large.
He and a travelling entourage, comprising friends and family, averaged around 30 km a day walking to the province’s capital, choosing to sleep outdoors pretty much every night.
Despite having to endure the elements, Bighetty and his group finally crossed over into Winnipeg city limits on July 31, two days earlier than they originally predicted.
Bighetty took to the steps of the legislature on Aug. 2, calling on Minister of Indigenous and Northern Relations Eileen Clarke and other provincial officials to commit to rebuilding Granville Lake’s crumbling infrastructure.
“Time is an issue,” he said in Winnipeg. “Our elders are not getting any younger. People are slowly dying, killing themselves with alcohol, drugs, circumstances that were created when we were removed from our homeland.”
Even though this rally didn’t generate the level of attention he was looking for, Bighetty told the Thompson Citizen Aug. 9 that he isn’t halting his campaign any time soon.
Most recently, Bighetty endorsed a letter written by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation deputy chief Richard Dumas, which asks Clarke to set up a meeting in order to finalize a plan on how to restore Granville Lake to a livable condition.
“I’m asking that you follow through on the commitment of providing the resources and the actions that are necessary to repair and rebuild infrastructure in Granville Lake so that my members can go home,” Dumas wrote. “The displacement of our people from their homes has to end and we need your help to overcome resources and technical barriers to make this happen.”
Although Bighetty has returned to Leaf Rapids as of Aug. 4, he hopes that this journey has inspired others to take up this cause and put pressure on government officials to help bring about change.
“You can’t say there’s no issues related to Granville Lake, that we didn’t walk 1,000 kilometres for nothing,” he said. “We walked for our whole community, our homelands, our way of life, our culture, our people.”