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'I have cried and longed for home long enough'

David Bighetty undergoing 1,000 km walk to raise awareness for displaced community
David Bighetty (far right) arrived in Thompson July 7 after walking over 200 km from his starting po
David Bighetty (far right) arrived in Thompson July 7 after walking over 200 km from his starting point in Leaf Rapids. Bighetty is aiming to arrive in Winnipeg sometime in early August.

At approximately 2:40 p.m. July 7, David Bighetty crossed the Miles Hart Bridge into Thompson after travelling more than 200 kilometres by foot over five days.

This milestone is the first big leg in Bighetty’s journey, during which he plans to walk from Leaf Rapids to the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg to raise awareness about the community of Granville Lake, which has been in a state of disarray for almost two decades.

When the Thompson Citizen met up with Bighetty at Lions Club Park the 33-year-old was in good spirits, even though he and his travelling entourage had to endure camping outside during a vicious thunderstorm the previous night.

Despite these weather conditions, Bighetty’s drive to complete this month-long trek is still strong, since he said next to nothing has been done to make his original home habitable throughout the last 16 years.

According to a recent press release from the group Wa Ni Ska Tan, an alliance of hydro affected communities, Granville Lake was evacuated in March 2003 due to a failed sewage and water system, which left many in the community ill due to prolonged exposure.

Since then, Bighetty and other residents have been in limbo living in Leaf Rapids, unable to return to their ancestral home due to what he sees as neglect and mismanagement on part of the Canadian government and local Granville Lake leadership. 

“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. “So it’s very sad to see that our community is the way it is.”

Additionally, Bighetty said a lot of former Granville Lake residents are waiting for financial compensation, since some of them are still paying rent on properties they had to leave behind.

“The communication between leaders and … people is so distant, it’s created a separation where people don’t talk to each other, people hate each other. That love and support is not there,” he said.

Bighetty also talked about how this displacement has had a significant psychological impact on Granville Lake youth who, like him, have grown into maturity without access to their traditional forms of hunting, fishing and trapping.

“Being removed from my home and then not being able to move back really hit me hard,” he said. “And it really gave me a culture shock where I became an alcoholic … I did so many things that I’m not proud of.”

Even though Bighetty is finally taking action on these issues, he knows there is a load road ahead. Not only does he still have to walk another 750−800 km to Winnipeg, but Bighetty is also tasked with bringing this long-standing government inaction to an end.

”It’s my hope that we see a future for our children and our grandchildren and our people [in Grandville Lake], because it’s been far too long,” he said. “We need to make it home again. Let’s come together and work together.”

Bighetty said he expects to arrive at his final destination sometime in early August.

To follow his journey in more detail, check out the Facebook group titled “Walk for Granville lake Issues July 2nd Aug 2nd 2018.”