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An aboriginal man walked through Merritt on Monday, chained to an Indian Act document.
Leo Baskatawang said he intends to take his Walk 4 Justice, which started at the Vancouver Art Gallery on April 23, all the way to parliament in Ottawa.
“There was a lot of anticipation built up within the indigenous communities about resolving issues,” he said about a summit meeting between Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo and Prime Minister Stephen Harper on January 24, resulting in what he calls a disappointment.
“Nothing came of that meeting. It was just a progress report,” he said. “That’s when I decided that enough is enough and we need to make some immediate changes. The Indian Act is archaic. It’s a ball and chain to our self-determination.”
Dragging the Indian Act represents a history of imprisonment, a collective enmity towards it and its future erosion, he said.
Baskatawang said he’d like to see an aboriginal person elected by First Nations as the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as changes to the Indian Act.
“The fact that it’s called the Indian Act shows how archaic and out-of-date this piece of legislation is,” he said. “I mean, we’re not Indians.”
Baskatawang rested in Lower Nicola Monday, because Highway 5 between Merritt and Kamloops was closed due to a semi-truck fire. He was also suffering from a shin injury.
A new friend in Lower Nicola heard about the cause through a family member and offered to put him and his spiritual leader, Ashley Bottle, up for a couple of nights.
Bottle is joining Baskatawang for the duration of the walk. The pair share a common goal.
“I was told he was doing work and when I asked what the work was for, [our cousin] told me it was for our people, so I said ‘OK,’ I’ll help out,” Bottle said, noting the pair was introduced through their cousin.
The team intends to arrive in Ottawa on Labour Day, where they will present their petition and host a rally.
Terrilyn Cordoni, Baskatawang’s sister and campaign organizer, said she is amazed he is doing the walk.
“I’m really proud of him,” she said. “It’s quite a walk. I live in Maple Ridge and we’ve always been separated, but now I’m helping him out with as much stuff as I can do.”
That help includes contacting media and finding other support along the way.
Baskatawang is a University of Manitoba student. He said he hopes to collect 100,000 signatures by the end of the walk.
For more information and to sign the petition, visit www.gopetition.com.