Kevin Redsky pictures it as a great big hug — one that holds up Indigenous youth all the way from Haida Gwaii to Newfoundland.
Moved by the loss of his niece, and by years of working with at-risk youth as an officer in the Anishinabek Police Service, Sergeant Redsky is now six weeks into a 4,000 km walk for youth mental health.
“There is wear and tear for sure,” said Redsky, speaking from Truro, Nova Scotia with much less weight and a new pair of shoes.
“I think I should use A535 as a sponsor.”
Called Hope in the Darkness, the walk features two teams — one heading from Newfoundland and one from Haida Gwaii — who will meet in Winnipeg this August. Led by fellow officer Robert Campbell, the western team will set out Tuesday, May 15 from the Old Massett Youth Centre at 8 a.m. and hold a kick-off at the Gudangaay Tlaat’sgaa Naay gym at 10:15 a.m.
After a three-day walk to Skidegate, the western team will ferry to Prince Rupert three so they can walk part of the Highway of Tears to Terrace before they set out again from Vancouver to Winnipeg.
Besides walking about 40 km a day, both teams are holding listening sessions at schools and youth centres along the way.
When they finally get to Winnipeg on Aug. 3, they will celebrate at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and then move to the next goal — starting a non-profit informed by all they learn on the trip.
Cold weather, warm welcomes
Redsky is leading the longer eastern walk, so he set out on April 1 from Cape Spear, Newfoundland. It’s same windswept rock where Terry Fox dipped his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic ocean in April 1980.
“If I’d known the weather was like that in Newfoundland in April, I might have waited for the first of May,” said Redsky, laughing.
The first week it snowed twice, and for two days Redsky had to stay off his feet because storm winds were blowing up to 160 km/h. Officers from the nearby town of Clarenville made up the weather days by walking 80 km in his place.
It was when Redsky reached the Membertou First Nation on Cape Breton / Unama’ki that he and his support team held their first presentation and listening session with a youth group.
“They were absolutely amazing,” Redsky said, adding that more requests for talks are coming as they go, including three schools sessions on Haida Gwaii.
Raising youth issues, nation-wide
After 15 years working with at-risk youth and missing-person cases on the Curve Lake First Nation, Redsky said one issue that all youth face is bullying on social media.
“In the old days, if I dealt with a bully at school, the weekend comes and you wouldn’t see that person again until Monday,” he said.
“Now with social media — you can’t escape it, right. It’s 24/7 and it’s not limited to a single person or one bully. They seem to pack.”
Indigenous youth in particular tend to see far more social problems among the adults around them, said Redsky, including violence, alcohol abuse, and sexual offences.
“Our youth are seeing this. The communities are so small that everybody knows everybody’s business,” he said. “It’s overwhelming to see those issues daily.”
Another problem is the high number of Indigenous children living in foster care. In 2011, there were 392,100 Indigenous children ages 14 and under in Canada, and over 14,000 were living in foster homes.
“We’re not happy about that,” said Redsky, adding that too many Indigenous youth are growing up away from their land and elders, whether they are in foster care or not.
“They’re missing out.”
Redsky lost his own niece, Jay Lynn, to suicide. At the time she had been shuttled between several foster homes, away from the family that tried but could not bring her home.
“We ended up losing her to the system in Winnipeg, the childcare system,” he said.
“That sat with our family — maybe the guilt, maybe we should have did more.”
Years later, Redsky was out for a walk and thinking of Jay Lynn one day when he got the idea for Hope in the Darkness.
“I believe there’s work to be done, and that work was inspired right there,” he said.
Redsky knows part of that work is to encourage more trust between youth and police. The beauty of working for a First Nation police service is that there is no three- or four-year changeover, so it’s much easier to get to know people.
Another part of the solution is to have more First Nations recover control of their own childcare services. It’s already happening, Redsky said — slowly.
“I’m glad the First Nations are addressing that,” he said.
“I can’t wait for the day when we can account for all of our members, especially our youth.”