Humboldt to Fort Carlton: asohtewak - Hearts Walking Together
- Louise Halfe | October 07, 2019
For months, I have been feeling the urgency to walk and so I looked forward to the opportunity to walk the Humboldt to Fort Carlton trail. It was not only the challenge of covering the over 100 MILE distance but I am a strong advocate for physical fitness. After all my ancestors and my late grandfather and father were long distance walkers. My grandfather’s Cree name was “Prairie Walker.” I realize that many others have walked perhaps more miles with their own purposes, however I wanted to articulate and share what I saw and felt on these particular trails.
Last year my husband and I had the pleasure of completing a fifty-six-mile five-day hike on the Frenchman’s trail. I was exhilarated for days afterwards. I had a grandmother who I referred to as a poet, who arrive at our house either on horseback or cane in hand to visit us from her cabin several miles away. I loved her stamina. In my youth I worked hard in the sugar beet fields alongside my family hoeing in the hot sun so I’ve always known though unconsciously that my body craved physical activity.
It is in our blood.
These walks have been researched by the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society by Hugh Henry, a kind and humble man who generously has given a lot of time and effort to plan. He contacted people on farms where we could possibly camp. He called local town councilors and historians to impart their knowledge. He gave tobacco and offerings to various nehiyaw reserves to inform them that we would be passing through their territories. He provided information on hotel/motel and or bed and breakfast places or retreat centers available along the route. He mapped the gravel, dust, or pavement, pasture and prairie routes and calculated the length of time it would take to cover the trek. He arranged for support volunteers who provided transportation along the route if it was needed. They carried water, and our lunch supplies and then ferried us back to where we had left our vehicles. And it was all free except of course covering our own park entrance fees and accommodations. But mostly we pitched our individual tents and organized our own camping gear including the food we wished to eat and share. It was a community effort initiated by Hugh’s organization.
We came from all professions throughout the province and elsewhere. Our ages ranged from the forties to the eighties. And we all came for different reasons. I went because of the physical activity and my love of the land. I loved the spiritual essence of the walk and the satisfaction of being in awe and feeling good about myself. I do not indulge too much in our history as I find it too painful, and I did not want to enter the walk in bitterness and anger. I am very much aware of the destruction of the land, the racism, the colonization and its long-term impact. I’ve written about it. Instead it is the awakening of the physicality of my body, my mental, emotional and spiritual health that is invigorated by my blistered feet and the “walk forward.”
I’d walk the land on our property but the fear of Lyme disease from the numerous ticks have made me reluctant to slip on my hiking boots. I am also reluctant to walk the gravel and paved roads around our area. For one the gravel roads are isolated and the highway is far too narrow to provide safe walking. As a woman I am cautious about where I venture out. It seems gender and race doesn’t matter to the perpetrators. It’s simply not advisable to be out trucking alone.
To walk – pimohte, loosely means to walk forward and eat life with your heart. asohtewak – loosely means hearts walking together. These are my attempts at interpreting the Cree. Forgive me Cree speakers if I’ve made an error.
There are a lot of metaphors in the process of camping, walking and backpacking. For example, “pitching up our tent” is like collecting and living with the sustenance that take places within that tent. “Packing our tent” – taking an inventory of the happenings in our lives and our final return to the earth-mother.
“Backpacking our daily food” – what is going to sustain us or hurt us along the way. “Carrying our water” – not only for providing life’s blood for the physical being but emptying ourselves along the ditches, and in the bushes. “The small or large blisters” on our feet that we lovingly cared for – these scars of hurts that we’ve done to ourselves and to others that remind us we aren’t without mistakes. Any walk will provide an individual its teachings we just need to stop and reflect and consider the choices of where our feet, our journey will take us. And of course there are always consequences. No wonder the Elder’s teach payahtik, go slowly with care, softly with gentleness and patience, not only in our walk but in our behavior and speech. I’ve had hard lessons as I’ve asserted myself in inappropriate ways.
Yes, I had a lot to consider.
We smudged every morning and every one participated regardless of belief. We respected what our people have long practiced. We meditated for the thought of the day, walked in silence or in twos’ or in groups. We shared stories, personal and life changing perceptions, we cried and laughed. We farted like horses as we walked and no one ridiculed the other, and snored loudly in our tents. We staggered, limped, shuffled, pushed our aching fire-felt feet, strained groins, and screaming buttocks forward. We observed one another’s gait and from a distance could tell who was leading the way. We all took turns as our bodies adjusted to the rhythm. We savored the sight of birds, the occasional deer, marveled at a piece of tail-fur none of us could identify and we found a perfect pelican skull. We watched bee-keepers busy collecting honey, and stopped to gather heavy-laden chokecherries. A car key was lost and some crawled on the ground, brushed the grass, unloaded an entire car, dumped clothes, searching. This can be another metaphor. At lunch breaks and at supper time we shared and cooked our food. We groaned in unison when we got up after our rest. In the mornings we were refreshed, packed, and ready for another life-giving day, our daily breath of the wind, and the sun.
It would be good for our “oral historians” to correct the settler narrative to make it right. This life, this history was not experienced on a one-way street. We will and are taking back our rightful place with our voices, our songs, our stories, our drums, and our ceremonies. I thank the heavens for those who lead us.