More than 125 marchers streamed onto Wellington Avenue for the Peace Walk Saturday.
A united message went out opposing gangs and drug-fuelled violence, led by Skwah First Nation leaders and others, to mark National Addictions Awareness Week.
Before the walk, about 90 per cent of the crowd put their hands up when Peace Walk emcee Theresa Point asked the pivotal question:
“How many people here have lost someone, or been seriously affected, by drugs and alcohol?”
Hands shot up and Point, who said she has Sto:lo family connections in Skowkale, as well as Chehalis, nodded in recognition.
“We have to be of one heart; we have to be of one mind, saying no more to drugs and alcohol in our communities,” she urged.
“No more” taking away family members who end up in institutions, and no more taking away the practice of aboriginal culture.
“We’re a broken people who has been through so much, and it’s going to take a lot of healing to get through,” she said.
She spoke about the pain of a community in mourning for a 15-year-old boy who recently took his own life.
“Stand with us, and walk with us, as we start to get stronger and take our proper place; as we start to reclaim our songs and our dances.”
A moment of silence was held to remember those who lost their lives in a struggle with drugs and alcohol, before the walk toward Skwah First Nation began.
Skwah Chief Robert Combes heralded the walk, which started five years ago on his reserve, and originated as a Walk For Sobriety.
“I’m proud of them and I’m proud to stand beside them now,” he said. “We are doing this for our people, and we are doing it for the world. We are struggling and we want the world to know.”
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she was also proud to be at the Peace Walk on behalf of the city.
“We’re here to send a message that we stand for peace, and we stand for righteousness and everything good and true,” she said. “Violence and drugs have no place in our community.”
She urged approaching “with a soft heart” those who are “stuck in the wheel of drug abuse,” with a message that the community cares.
Fraser Health addictions expert Dr. Sherry Mumford said that addiction does not get “the recognition” it deserves as a major health issue, as a family issue, as a personal issue, or as a community issue, mostly because of the stigma that’s attached to it.
The real message she wanted to send was one of hope.
“We talk a lot about the damage, but not enough about the hope and inspiration,” that can be felt on a “journey of recovery and wellness,” she said.
Drug and alcohol educator Eddie Gardener was proud to be at the event “taking a stand against something that wreaks havoc and destruction” on communities.
“We feel the devastation when one of us loses someone to drugs and alcohol,” he said. “That’s why we are standing up together today. We are igniting a beautiful dream, one with freedom from drugs and alcohol.”