Photo: Team Walking With Our Sisters at a Walk to Tuk Team Lunch in 2015.
Team YK Walking With Our Sisters has a full roster of 20 people this year (like most years) and they're using Walk to Tuk to connect, take care of each other, and honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
The team was formed back in 2015, when the MMIWG Walking With Our Sisters commemorative art installation project came to the NWT.
"Walking With Our Sisters is by all accounts a massive commemorative art installation comprised of 1,763+ pairs of moccasin vamps (tops) plus 108 pairs of children’s vamps created and donated by hundreds of caring and concerned individuals to draw attention to this injustice" – Walking With Our Sisters Webpage
The project brought women and men together who wanted to honour, remember, and commemorate their sisters, mothers, aunties, daughters, community members who have been lost. A group of women involved with the project in the NWT decided to form a Walk to Tuk Team that year, continuing to walk in spirit with and for missing and murdered sisters.
Team Captain, Lois Little, shares with all of us how their Team stays motivated, can inspire awareness and how they are using the Walk to Tuk challenge on a powerful journey toward healing. Lois had just come in from a walk near the Yellowknife snow castle when we chatted with her!
"This brings us together," said Lois.
Sometimes, teammates will be walking with just one or two other people. But they also make an effort to come together as a team.
"We get half of the team or thereabouts out go for a group walk," said Lois. "It's so that we're able to connect with each other."
"I think we all know that everybody is in a better place, and safer, when they connect with others. And so that's a big thing about murdered and missing: Is our sisters who have gone missing or murdered, were often isolated. They weren't connected with anybody to help keep them safe," explained Lois. "I think that's kind of a big idea behind walking together."
Team YK Walking With Our Sisters began as Team Walking With Our Sisters of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women from all over the territory in 2015. As the Team has grown each year, always with the intent of Walking With Our Sisters, some teammates from the original 2015 team, Lois says that they've got one whole team of 20 people just from Yellowknife alone (YK Walking With Our Sisters) and the women from the original Team captain their own Teams in their own communities.
YK Walking With Our Sisters walks together when they can on all kinds of trails and in all kinds of weather. Their togetherness and connection are inspiring. It's the essence of how we look at recreation at the NWTRPA: essential to overall wellbeing.
Lois noted how important it is to keep each other safe in body, and in spirit.
"The last time we went on a group walk, it was the day before on Valentine's Day, which was the day that I made that post about honouring murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls," recalled Lois. "But it was also the same day that there was the lynx up on Tin Can Hill and that's where we went. We went on a walk around Rat Lake, and up around Tin Can Hill. And we were joking about keeping each other safe [from the lynx] but it's the same idea: There's vulnerable young women out there [and] predators that are taking them. So yeah, we need to keep each other safe."
The YK Walking with Our Sisters team honours MMIWG every day in our walks. Today we are doing a Valentine's team walk in honour of our sisters. We hope that all the Walk to Tuk team members walking everywhere in the NWT will remember those whose lives were cut short. – Lois Mae Little on the NWTRPA Facebook Page.
February 14, Valentine's Day, is a day to honour the lives of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and acknowledge the grassroots initiatives that continue to raise awareness of this crisis.
The walking that this team does is not only about cardiorespiratory health, it's about the process of working together towards a healthy goal. YK Walking With Our Sisters came together through painful loss and mourning, each teammate having been affected by the MMIWG crisis, and a desire to honour and commemorate all Indigenous women and girls whose lives were cut short. They share this bond, and a collective desire to prevent these tragedies from continuing. When they walk, it is a healing and community-building act of resistance against Indigenous women and girls being murdered or going missing.
Being on the land together, the fresh air, the closeness of friends and family is healing, it's protective, and it keeps people connected to their roots and their values.
We asked Lois how the Walk to Tuk event, and recreation in general, can do more to support the awareness of MMIWG, and protect all Indigenous women from this type of tragedy.
Lois reiterated the importance of tight-knit communities and positive relationships; especially the way that recreational activities and sports build these positive relationships.
There are so many ways to connect that serve to bring communities closer, healthier, and more responsible for one another. Walk to Tuk is one of many great opportunities to connect in a positive way with communities and teams across the north who also feel passionate about staying active, healthy, and connected.
Lois said the Walk to Tuk challenge, in particular, serves as the perfect "excuse" to check-in with your loved ones, friends, and community members simply by asking them to go for a walk with you.
She added that there are so many other programs offered in the NWT that keep us connected. "Elders in Motion for example, that is so much about building relationships and keeping each other safe."
"I've done so much research in my life around violence and issues affecting women, but you know the only thing that really keeps women safe, or children safe, is each other," said Lois. "Group activities that establish those relationships and connections—that is what keeps everybody safe."
Lois suggested that recreation organizations such as the NWT Recreation and Parks Association and others could contribute to the cause by shining a light on champions of the MMIWG cause through commemorative walks and events, linking recreation to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice, and talking about the issues that exist—no matter how difficult.
Walking With Our Sisters is really working hard on the Walk to Tuk challenge, almost completing their trip BACK from Tuktoyuuqtuuq!
"Everybody that is on the team has nothing but great things to say about Walk to Tuk; destination walking is just this additional motivator," Lois shared.
She said with COVID-19, "Walk to Tuk is even more important and valuable this year! I'm sure that other teams are feeling that. Some people on the team are really sad that the challenge is ending!"
Thank you Lois and Team YK Walking With Our Sisters for sharing their story, and inspiring us all to continue supporting and working toward ending violence against Indigenous women in our communities.
If you have suggestions on how the NWTRPA and its programs and initiatives can further support MMIWG, please share with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Bri Krekoski & Kaila Jefferd-Moore
Interview with Lois Little conducted by Kaila Jefferd-Moore