Several hundred supporters turned out for the fourth and final year of the Walking in Spirit suicide awareness walk on Thursday, July 9 on Highway 611.
The walk is the vision of Mason Buffalo, a member of the Samson Cree Nation, who had moved to Toronto to take acting lessons, as his way of coping with the suicide of his cousin.
“I had been a fire fighter with the Maskwacis Fire Department, and was the first on scene at his suicide, and it really affected me,” said Buffalo. “I needed to get away.”
While in Toronto, Buffalo said that he met an Iroquois lady who asked if he had a recent loss in his life. “When I replied, yes, she said that she saw a spirit that was attached to me.”
“That is when I realized that I had to do something to lift the heaviness, not just from my shoulders but from everybody else that has been affected by suicide”, said Buffalo.
He started planning the walk while I was living Toronto, on social media and the first walk was organized in 2012. He described the response to the first walk as “unbelievable”. “We had so many turn up that we ran out of T-shirts for the participants,” he recalled.
The first walk started in Wetaskiwin, and headed south to Maskwacis. The second walk started in the east on Secondary Highway 611 and headed west into Maskwacis. Last year’s walk started in Ponoka and headed north, and the circle was completed this year by walking east from Highway 2, said Buffalo.
While Buffalo has returned to Toronto after each of the previous walks, this time he will be remaining in Maskwacis.
“I knew from the start that I wanted to take action and to do something for the community. To be a voice, and to use our prayers to lift the heaviness from our community,” he said.
“The large number of participants on the walk shows that there are lots of people that are on this healing journey, and we need to speak out and say we need help. I know that in December, it just seemed like there was funeral after funeral, after funeral.”
My biggest vision is that we create a healing lodge. To create an environment where people feel safe.
Almost all of the several hundred participants in this year’s walk had been personally affected by a suicide, according to organizers.
One of the participants in the walk, Rose Simon, said she was walking for her granddaughter Bethany Sarah Leigh Simon, who she said was driven to suicide last year by the bullying she was receiving at the Montana School. Jared Rain, another participant, was walking for both a brother and an aunt.
Frankie Moonias, who has participated in every walk, was there with his four-year-old son. “I came to support Mason (the lead organizer), because I know him, and have played hockey with him, and I have had thoughts of suicide myself.”
The walk started at the intersection of Secondary Highway 611 and followed the route into Maskwacis. There were several rest stops along the way, where native drummers provided encouragement to the walkers, and volunteers handed out water to keep the participants hydrated on the hot walk under the bright sun. A fire truck from the Maskwacis Fire Department travelled up and down the column spraying cooling water.