by Michael Erskine
WIKWEMIKONG-Each spring over the the past decade, retired housing inspector and trainer Walter Mishibinijima has donned walking shoes and a brightly coloured safety vest to set out on a trek from Rabbit Island to Sault Ste Marie to raise funds for post secondary education of children in foster care. Although his spirit is willing and the need for funding for foster kids remains great, this will be the final year for Wally Walk. Mr. Mishibinijima’s dream has fallen victim to worsening Type II diabetes.
“My doctor tells me I have to back off,” he said ruefully. “If I get blisters, they might not heal.”
And blisters are all but guaranteed on an odyssey that covers 350 kilometers over a grueling seven-day schedule.
It has been a 3,500 kilometer-long labour of love for the Rabbit Island resident, but the time has now come for him to hang up his sneakers and pass on the tradition to more youthful legs. “I really hope that someone steps forward to keep this going,” said Mr. Mishibinijima. “I would like to see it keep on growing.” The need for educational funding for foster kids continues to grow, he noted.
Mr. Mishibinijima and his wife have been foster parents for over 28 years and he explained how got tired of watching children fall through the cracks in the system and give up on higher education and decided to do something about it.
Together with his support team of John Jackson and Linda Eshkawkogan—described as wheel men, cooks, bottle washers and donation collectors—and joined by countless relay walkers along the route, Mr. Mishibinijima has raised over $50,000 for the cause. He notes that without the support of his wife and family, and the Wikwemikong band, his walk would not be possible. “They have the hard jobs,” he laughs. “All I have to do is walk.”
Mr. Mishibinijima identifies the real heroes of the Wally Walk as being those who donate towards the cause. “They part with their hard earned dollars to support the ones in need,” he said. “Who knows? It could be one of our very own that could benefit from the fund someday.”
If there is one misconception about his annual walk that rankles, it is that the fund is only for First Nation children in foster care. “This is for anyone,” he said. “It isn’t just for Native kids”
This year being the last Wally Walk, there will be a little twist to the normal schedule. Mr. Mishibinijima will be starting out from the Sault instead of finishing there. The end of this walk will be his Rabbit Island home. He is tentatively scheduled to arrive on Friday, May 20 and Mr. Mishibinijima encourages anyone to some out and walk with him for a kilometer or so. “It’s good exercise and a pleasant way for meditation,” he said.
He is currently seeking those who are willing to help go out and collect pledges. Pledge forms can be obtained at his residence or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations can be sent to Fostering Futures Funds, 1350 Rabbit Island Road, Wikwemikong, ON, P0P 1J0, c/o Walter Mishibinijima.