Footsteps come more slowly for Allen Navalalok Kanayok these days.
At age 60, the Cambridge Bay resident walks with a cane.
The 17 kilometres to reach Mount Ovayok — formerly known as Mount Pelly — is the same distance as it’s always been, but getting there takes much greater effort, and time.
A determined Kanayok made that trek on July 1, Canada Day. Wearing signs reading, “Every child matters,” it took him more than six hours to reach his destination. He summoned the strength to complete his journey in honour of the victims and survivors of residential schools.
“I’m extremely happy that I did it … I did it for my community, for the residential school survivors here in our community, and to the residential school survivors (across Canada) and to the residential school students that never made it home,” he said, shedding tears. “Too many young and old lives lost, especially they never made it home to their loved ones for proper burial.”
The following day, his spine was aching. His feet and legs were sore. Despite the discomfort, he’s ready to do more to raise awareness of the pain and suffering experienced at residential schools, where the graves of more than 1,000 Indigenous children have been located over the past several weeks in various provinces.
“Even at my age and disability, I can walk again to Mount Pelly for any residential school cause. I can do it again even in extreme weather,” Kanayok said. “I’ll keep on trying to do my best to help the residential school survivors.”
He said he’s been pleased to support his community by fishing for others over the years because it’s the way his parents raised him. Likewise, he’s instilled the same values in his children, who now help him and other community members by providing country food, he said.
Kanayok, who attended Stringer Hall residential school in Inuvik as a young boy, wasn’t alone on his long July 1 walk. His cousin Adelaide Kavanna and niece Caroline Robinson drove along in a SUV with water and snacks. They also kept watch for bears and wolves, which had been spotted in the area earlier, and they gave him a ride back into town afterwards.
“My uncle is such a caring, loving man,” Robinson said of Kanayok.
Robinson’s son Austin walked next to Kanayok on the route. Others showed their support as the pair strode past.
“As we were walking, we saw many people fishing along the river and lake. They were all cheering and shouting and clapping that I’d make it to my destination,” said Kanayok. “They gave me little bit of tears.”
He was so overjoyed when he reached Mount Ovayok that he forgot to place a doll and a miniature pair of shoes at the site, intended as a symbolic tribute to the lives lost. But that overlooked detail didn’t dampen his spirits.
“I’m proud for what I have done for residential school survivors and the residential school students that never made it home,” he said.