'This is the big one': Friends walking 500km to raise funds for Woodland Cultural Centre

Five friends from Six Nations of the Grand River Fire and Emergency Services are putting their fitness to the test while trying to raise money for the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford.

Their hope is for the money to be used for the Save the Evidence Campaign at the Centre, while also inspiring others to do something similar.

The group hopes to raise $5,000 to be put toward the project meant to raise awareness and support for the restoration of the former Mohawk Institute residential school and the creation of an interpretive centre about the history of residential schools in Canada.

“We’re all splitting it amongst each other too so each one of us has 100 kilometres to do,” said Calvin Thomas, one of the people walking to raise money for Save the Evidence Campaign. “This is a big one here for us. We see it every day when we're on shift, just the intergenerational trauma that the residential schools has caused.”

Thomas said his dad was one of the last people to speak the local dialect and wished he had learned the language more.

But because his ancestors spoke English and went to church, Thomas said his family was never forced into the residential school system.

“It's never overly affected me until I had my own daughter and just realizing that she's at that age now where she could have possibly been taken away. That would have broken my heart,” Thomas said.

“I think there's a lot of turmoil and a lot of hurt from the past that a lot of people still haven’t gotten over, rightfully so. It's good for me to come down here as a firefighter, and as a human to help out the best way as I can and continue to move forward with that,” Victor Paletta, one of the walkers said.

Although the group has chosen a specific recipient for their donations, they're hoping the idea catches on and snowballs to other groups.

“We're trying to pass it on. So, whether it's match our goal, whether it's the monetary goal or the fitness effort,” Amalee Jacobs, one of the walkers said.

The group started walking on Wednesday and logged 21 of the 500 kilometres needed.

They are also using social media to allow others to follow along as they update their journey or contribute to their online fundraiser.

The group plans to wrap things up on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, by walking about 20 kilometres from the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford to Chiefswood Park in Six Nations.​