Michael MJ Eshkawkogan runs from Wiikwemkoong to Spanish

Wiikwemkoong runner Michael (MJ) Eshkawkogan was joined by a couple of eager youth as he left Little Current over the swing bridge headed for Espanola and then the Spanish residential school ruins. photos by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG—At 8 am on July 1, Michael (MJ) Eshkawkogan set out from his home in Wiikwemkoong on an epic three-day run to the residential school ruins in Spanish in order to help raise awareness of what happened to Indigenous children and to demonstrate resilience and strength in the face of very difficult time of ‘Every Child Matters.’

“We need strength now, more than ever,” he said. “A great deal of strength is needed to face the truth of this country and what has happened here needs to be told. Canada attempted a genocide, they tried to remove an entire people. All of us have this harsh reality to face, we must not balk or falter. The ground we stand on is firm and honest, as should be our approach.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan’s run began auspiciously, with communities along his route coming out to provide support and to acknowledge and join in his personal project.

Despite the immense emotional impact of the catalyst for the event, the discovery of the unmarked graves of residential school children across the nation, Mr. Eshkawkogan’s run was a veritable study in positivity.

“I didn’t hear anything negative on my run,” he said. “There might have been some frustration in the vehicles that were lined up behind me,” he said. “I might have been the same if I was stuck behind someone running down the road.”

The second day setting out from Little Current brought with it a roller coaster of emotions along with a major change in plans as an injury forced Mr. Eshkawkogan to switch to a bicycle, but the runner/cyclist was also gifted with an eagle feather.

“It was so cool how it happened,” he said. “My friends were there when it occurred—they witnessed what happened.”

As for the entire journey, Mr. Eshkawkogan said “you couldn’t have planned it better, what I witnessed was so beautiful. I super-appreciate everyone’s time.”

The run was entirely organic, noted Mr. Eshkawkogan. “I hadn’t planned anything for the end,” he said. He noted that even Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes showed up.

Although he had made no plans for what would happen when he arrived at the residential school ruins in Spanish, Mr. Eshkawkogan said he was startled by the difference between when he visited the site a few weeks prior.

“Rachel (Mr. Eshkawkogan’s partner) said how different it felt today,” he said. “We came with positivity.”

Along his journey the runner said that he “never felt alone.” There was only a very small amount of time where the runner found himself unaccompanied.

Mr. Eshkawkogan stripped off his orange shirt when he arrived and was overcome with emotion.

“When we got to the monument I just had to cry,” he said. “I put my shirt down, it felt right to leave my shirt there. My father gave me some blessings. It was so beautiful, so nice.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan said that his run is only the beginning of his personal journey of exploration. 

“Next, I want to know what happened to my uncle who was there, my people who were there,” he said. “I am going to walk along the railroad there—something is there. The stories of children running away, many of them used the railroad tracks.”

Children running away from the school would use the railroad tracks as a guide to lead them back to their homes and families.

“I would ask all my neighbours to acknowledge this fact. We, together, must acknowledge this as true. The government is not Canada. We are Canada. We are Kanata. The village,” he said. “I’d rather my neighbours acknowledge this over Mr. (prime minister Justin) Trudeau. I’d rather my neighbours show me the respect and dignity I attempt to show them.” 

Mr. Eshkawkogan offered his thanks to all of the many people, the “randoms” he met along his 147 km journey from every community, “chi-miigwetch.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan noted that touching moment on his journey was when he encountered a white man named Charlie. “He shook my hand and said that he had known the stories all his life,” he said. “He said the words I was asking for, the words I had been waiting for all my life. He said ‘what they did to you, to your people, was an atrocity, they should be held accountable’.”

“I believe all of us need a little strength and courage during this time,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan. “I feel this run to Spanish is important to all on Turtle Island. It’s a run for strength. A run for truth. I run for the strength to move forward with true intent. It is time for the truth to be heard.”