WIKWEMIKONG—From a time before memory until she was 18-years-old, Crystal Kimewon bounced between foster homes and, eventually, group homes. When she aged out of the foster system, she found herself uncertain of what to do and without many options.
“It was really rough,” she told The Expositor earlier this week. “Some of the homes were very abusive. Emotional, physical, you name it. Others weren’t so bad, but I was.”
As an adult she found she knew next to nothing about her own heritage and was burdened with the emotional damage from her time in the foster system.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself,” she said.
One day, while at a community event, Walter Mishibinijima walked up to her.
“He said ‘I want to give you money’,” Ms. Kimewon said with a laugh. “That’s just the type of person Wally is. Over the top, and wanting to help.”
Mr. Mishibinijima walked Ms. Kimewon through the paperwork for his Fostering Futures Fund (FFF), which he established to help kids from the foster system start their own businesses or with post-secondary education.
Mr. Mishibinijima raised the money each year through a walk that not only drew attention to the plight of young adults graduating from the ward system, but also revealed the successes these young adults found in education.
“I went to college and got my electrician’s certification because of FFF,” Ms. Kimewon said. “The chance I had thanks to FFF gave me a direction in life.”
For the past few years, Mr. Mishibinijima has had a difficult time walking. Diabetes has seriously affected his health and his feet, and in an interview last year with The Expositor, he said his doctor said he had to stop.
“I’ll still walk a few kilometres,” he said, defying orders, “but I can’t do the entire thing anymore.”
The news that the walk might stop, and along with it FFF, hit Ms. Kimewon hard.
“When I saw Wally last year, he told me that was his last year walking,” Ms. Kimewon said. “I was like, ‘Woah! Who will walk now’?”
She decided she could, and would.
In an email to The Expositor, Ms. Kimewon wrote that she felt it necessary to see the ‘Wally Walk’ continue because she knew what it was like to be in foster care and a Crown ward and she knew how difficult it was.
“It was life changing,” Ms. Kimewon said of the moment Mr. Mishibinijima walked up to her to offer her financial help. “It made the difference.”
After obtaining her electrician’s certificate, Ms. Kimewon went back to university to study Native human services. She chose to take this course because she could really understand what the people she would be helping went through.
“There is so much information available at Laurentian about my heritage,” Ms. Kimewon said. Due to her time in the foster system, she knew almost nothing about her people. “I’ve been learning so much about who I am. I make sure my children know who they are. And if I can give that back to someone like me, who lost it, then I am happy.”
“Wally is still going to be part of the walk,” Ms. Kimewon said. The woman who took her in at the age of 16, Marie Stevens, is going to be her driver, and Lindsay Lewis will also walk with her. The Bridgeway Motel in Little Current and the Pinewood Motor Inn in Espanola have agreed to house the walkers during the march. This year’s walk is scheduled to start at 6 am in Wikwemikong on April 26 and finish in Sudbury at noon at the Big Nickel Mine on April 29.
People interested in making a donation to the Fostering Futures Fund can make a donation along the route, or made out to Fostering Futures Fund c/o Walter Mishibinijima.