(Photo: Leo Baskatawang (far right) in Iraq in 2003. Photo courtesy of Leo Baskatawang)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
An Indigenous Iraq war veteran says he is planning on walking from Vancouver to Ottawa to call out the federal government over its refusal to deal with First Nations issues.
Leo Baskatawang, 32, says he plans to begin walking from Vancouver on April 23 and hopes to arrive in Ottawa by Sept. 3. The Winnipeg resident and University of Manitoba Masters student says he’s aiming to raise $20,000 to cover the cost of the cross-country walk.
“We need a movement where people can unite together and rally for a cause,” said Baskatawang. “By the time I show up in Ottawa on Labour Day, I would love to have thousands of people there.”
Baskatawang said the disappointing results of January’s Crown-First Nations Gathering involving the prime minister and First Nations chiefs triggered his plan for the walk.
“Just the idea that nothing was accomplished, basically the only thing that happened was they came up with a broad agreement and that…they’ll release a progress report in one year,” he said. “Enough is enough; we need to do something now. We can’t afford to wait another year.”
Baskatawang is Anishinaabek from Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation, which had its reserve lands flooded by development in the 1950s, forcing residents to abandon their territory in Ontario’s north-west. Some live in Thunder Bay, but many are scattered across the country.
Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation is still a registered band with a membership list of about 500 members. The band has launched a claim against Canada and Ontario, which is under negotiation.
“The catastrophe that happened to my community alienated everyone,” said Baskatawang, who was born in Dryden, Ont.
Baskatawang joined the U.S. military in his early 20s before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He served two tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from March 2003 to February 2004 and from October 2005 and September 2006.
“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “It puts one to the test.”
Now he’s focused on getting his body prepared for the long walk.
“I just hatched this idea three weeks ago and it has built a lot of momentum in that time,” he said.