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To honour children, Shuswap woman takes two walks from two residential schools

Medicine walk travels through Salmon Arm, Sicamous to bring awareness, healing
Sasha Eugene’s grandmother Audrey Eugene, Sasha’s auntie Sheila Johnny, driver-support Tegan James Spencer Oja and walker Sasha Eugene take time out Aug. 22 at Little Shuswap Lake during her Medicine walk from Kamloops to the Shuswap Nation administration office in Invermere to bring the spirits of the children at the residential school home. (Annie Williams photo)

One foot in front of the other, Sasha Eugene, a member of the Shuswap Band, is turning sorrow and destruction into healing, connections and awareness.

Sasha, at 26, is part of the first generation since her great-great grandparents’ to not attend residential school. Her great-grandmother Marge was taken to the Kamloops school. Her great-grandfather Ox was taken south to the St. Eugene school in Cranbrook as was Sasha’s grandmother, Audrey.

When hearing that the remains of children had been confirmed in both places, Sasha wished to do a medicine walk – to walk their spirits home, both to honour them and those who survived.

In an interview from Malakwa on Aug. 23, Sasha referred to the Cranbrook school as an extermination camp, pointing out the stated purpose of the ‘schools’ was to exterminate the Indigenous in the children. She said the word ‘school’ has a positive association which doesn’t take seriously the inhumanity of what was done in the institutions.

Sasha’s first walk was from Cranbrook back to the Shuswap Nation administration office in Invermere in July.

On Aug. 20 she started her second walk, this one from Kamloops to the same destination. She calls it a “Medicine freedom walk, bringing the spirits home.”

Audrey, who is accompanying Sasha, spoke of how much her granddaughter’s walk means to her.

“It’s very healing for me, I’m so proud of her. She’s helping me with my grief and everything,” Audrey said of Sasha.

“Everybody who has come out and walked with her for a little bit, they have all been residential school survivors.

“She’s doing it for the children and also doing it for the missing and murdered women and men, and in honour of all the children who’ve been lost over the past few years.”

Read more: Three Feathers Walk stops at Pierre’s Point with a message of hope

Read more: From Saskatchewan to Salmon Arm, walker speaks of wish for healing for all people

Walking from Kamloops through the Shuswap has connected Sasha to her relatives along the way and to Secwepemculuw, the traditional territory of her people, which includes Kamloops, Salmon Arm and Invermere in the East Kootenay.

Councillor Joyce Kenoras with the Adams Lake band said the community was honoured to extend a welcome with songs and a feast for her at Pierre’s Point.

Neskonlith knowledge keeper and Coun. Louis Thomas walked with her near Salmon Arm.

For Sasha, it’s been an honour to be welcomed so much along the way.

It’s also good to be out walking, and to be Indigenous, she said.

“To show them we’re still here today.

“It’s been healing for me as well… I get to know the land better, our stories, our legends and know more of our language.”

She spoke about one unexpected aspect of the walk.

“The amount of garbage on the side of the road is very sad,” she said.

Everyone is so concerned about global warming, she pointed out, yet one of the smallest things people could do is put garbage where it belongs so it’s not harming wildlife or the Earth. She’s seen all manner of things – toilets, microwaves, coffee makers and more. She and her supporters counted cans to see how much they would be worth if they had room to pick them up. They stopped counting at about $1,000.

Regarding her walk in general, Sasha said anyone is welcome to join her, to take a few steps or just say hello. She emphasized how important it is to keep the message in the public eye.

Sasha said her next step when her walk concludes will include rest.

After that, “I don’t really know – Creator has a plan for us all.”
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Sasha Eugene passes through Salmon Arm on Aug. 23 as she walks from Kamloops residential school where her great-grandmother Marge Eugene was forced to go, to Invermere where Sasha lives. Her grandmother Audrey accompanied her and she is joined by supporters along the way, including Neskonlith knowledge keeper Louis Thomas. They are all Secwépemc. (Photo contributed)

Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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