WIKWEMIKONG— Wikwemikong community members gathered last Saturday evening by the Wikwemikong water tower for a Take Back the Night community walk. The walk was prompted by the recent murder of Wikwemikong community member Percy (Junior) Simon. The walk started at the apartment building by the water tower and circled Andrew Crescent, stopping in front of the ditch where Mr. Simon’s body was found, before continuing down past the high school, along Wikwemikong Way and ending at Monument Hill.
“We wanted to bring the community together to discuss ways to prevent violence in the community and prevent incidents like what happened to Percy Simon from occurring,” explained Crystal Kimewon, who organized the walk with fellow community member Cassandra Mandamin. “We thought if we brought together everyone’s ideas we could form a strategy to take to chief and council. We’ve asked individuals to bring drums and we will be drumming and carrying a smudging bucket throughout the walk to promote healing.”
While Take Back the Night is typically thought of as a women’s walk, the Wikwemikong organizers invited all community members who have lost a loved one or have been affected by violence in any way to join and asked men specifically to walk behind the women and take on their traditional warriors role.
Prior to the walk, an open discussion about violence in the community was held. Ms. Kimewon started by noting how violence is an issue in Wikwemikong, whether people wanted to admit it or not.
“A number of people think this is an isolated event, but incidents like this occur and, sadly, this one ended in death,” said Ms. Kimewon, referring to the death of Percy (Junior) Simon. “We are here to talk about violence in the community and because we want to prevent something like this happening again. We want everyone to share their thoughts and ideas and then we can take those ideas back to chief and council.”
One participant, Joanne, shared that she thought youth were being teased which was preventing many of them from attending the many positive events in the community.
Dianne, a young mother, brought her son and his friend, explaining their role as warriors and protectors of the women in the walk.
“I live in this area and it’s sad what happened,” she shared. “I asked Cassandra if we could smudge this area and I was honoured that she asked me to carry the smudge bucket so we could smudge the neighborhood and the whole walk. I know that there are some great programs in this community, but often no one shows up. Our barrier is to get people to come out and participate in these really great programs, especially youth.”
Ms. Mandamin told the group that she felt something had to be done after the incident (Mr. Simon’s death).
“I wanted to hold a walk against violence, but the big picture is that violence occurs from depression and anger—so healing is really important,” said Ms. Mantdamin. “I find that there is a lot of animosity in our community, a lot of judgment and jealousy. We need to switch things around and focus on the positive and hopefully that will snowball into something bigger.”
Pamela brought her daughter to the walk and shared that she felt the programs being held in the community weren’t reaching the people that would really benefit from them.
“We need to ask youth what would get them out to events and programs,” said Pamela. “And what would make them more relatable to the youth. I think we could turn things around in the community if we start approaching things from a place of love.”
A woman named Amy said that she learned about the event on Facebook and wanted to get involved.
“It is a real tragedy what happened,” said Amy. “We need to get our youth involved in culture-based activities to help prevent this from happening again in the future.”
A woman from Whitefish River First Nation told the group that she came for the walk because she was a victim of domestic violence and she heard the cry from Wikwemikong for healing.
“We are all family, we are all related,” she said. “We need to support each other.”
A Wikwemikong woman who identified as “heading towards being an elder” began crying as she shared how sad she was at what had happened in her community.
“We need to be strong and stand together,” she explained. “We need to do this for our children. Life is not easy for many people from different backgrounds and we need to be there for our youth and for each other.”
The walkers embarked at 9:30 pm following the open discussion and a drum song and stopped at the location on Andrew Crescent where Mr. Simon’s body was found following an altercation at a neighbourhood home.
During the stop the group, which included Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, offered tobacco and prayers for Mr. Simon and his family and lit a candle in his memory. They also drummed two songs and held a healing circle.
Walkers continued throughout Wikwemikong, eventually concluding the walk at Monument Hill.