Manitoulin man undergoes personal journey to honour residential school survivors
Michael Eshkawkogan is undertaking a major mission, one that most of us wouldn't consider or even be able to accomplish in our lifetime. He's running 147 kilometres in three days.
Eshkawkogan is in the midst of his "Run to Spanish" to honour and raise awareness for residential school survivors. For the 32-year-old father of two, this is personal. His grandmother survived the school in Spanish, Ontario.
"Before my grandmother passed, she shared with us her younger brother was taken to residential schools and never brought back. We have no answers, no response, we have nothing other than his name and how old he was when he was taken," he tells CTV News.
People from across the island gathered throughout the course of his first day to cheer on the Wikwemikong resident.
He became emotional talking about the cause. Wearing '215' on his orange t-shirt in honour of the children of a Kamloops, BC residential school recently discovered in unmarked graves. He knows that the number is going to grow before this is all done.
"I'm compelled to push the narrative and have this discussion - I seek answers."
Eshkawkogan has been documenting the journey on his Facebook page.
"It's a very troublesome part of our history where these survivors have a very hard time talking about what has happened. It's been damaging to native communities over the decades - in the fallout of the schools - I'm learning with everybody at the same time, in real time," he said.
People have signed up from as far away as Sault Ste. Marie to run part of the stretch with him.
Wikwemikong resident David Hicks never met Eshkawkogan before Friday. He Facebooked him and asked how he could help and volunteered as a driver, following in behind him.
"To me - that's what inspires me, it seems to me he's running 3 marathons, one a day for the next three days, just to prove he can push through these fears and do something to support his community in a really positive way," said Hicks.
Eshkawkogan has been running earlier in the day to avoid the hot summer afternoons.
He doesn't stretch for long before he's spotted in the parking lot of the Manitoulin Hotel by the daughter of a residential school survivor.
"I think it's absolutely phenomenal, I think it's absolutely beautiful because it brings awareness to people of residential schools and the atrocities that have happened and the wellness and the being and the healing that people are doing today," said Marti Pitawanakat.
Eshkawkogan says he's been inspired by some of the greatest long-distance runners. With each step he takes, he hopes people are listening.
"The use of language and the use of words is extremely important, letting your leaders know what you want from them is probably the greatest thing you can do right now," he said.
On Friday he'll be making the journey from Little Current to Espanola and then on Saturday he'll finish by arriving at the schools in Spanish.
He says those who see him are encouraged to join and even cheer him on. He says the initiatives and work on the issue needs to continue until all the children are found.