They’re fed up with gangs and drug-fuelled violence.
Organizers of the first ever Walk for Peace said they’ll hit the streets of downtown Chilliwack on Nov. 19.
“We are symbolically taking responsibility to take back our community,” said Skwah Chief Robert Combes. “We are tired of all the activities involving drugs and gangs.
“We want to stop it — or at least slow it down.”
Starting from Five Corners at 11 a.m. with a few speakers addressing the crowd first, the marchers will then head down Wellington Avenue to Skwah First Nation.
The goal is to do “whatever” it takes to put a stop to the engrained problem of booze, drugs and crime, the chief said. It has created parasitic relationships and wrecked lives, but the problem is larger than one small reserve can handle, he said.
The Walk for Peace is a continuation of the annual Walk for Sobriety event, organized by Skwah First Nation members. The marchers would sometimes stop along the walk to identify sources of neighbourhood problems.
“Everyone is invited to join the walk,” said Combes, which is being held on election day, Saturday, Nov. 19, to send politicians a clear message. The date also coincides with National Addictions Awareness Week.
This year City of Chilliwack was approached to broaden the scope of the Walk for Peace, and city officials quickly accepted the invitation to participate.
“We are all aware that these issues are not limited to aboriginal communities,” said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “We have hope of a life absent from drugs and violence and the devastating effects they have on all of us.”
The walk has also been bolstered by support from other First Nations, RCMP, Fraser Health Authority, Salvation Army, and many more businesses, groups and service agencies.
“This is an opportunity to make people aware of a need, and once that need is identified by the general public, then we’ll be able to fix it,” said Austin Underwood, who helped organize the Walk for Peace. “It’s been incredible to see this come together. Everyone has come on board and thinks it’s a good idea.”
All it took was for someone to ask for help, he said.
Underwood is a job developer with Triangle Community Resources, and it was one of his clients who reached out to him with real-life horror stories of violence and intimidation inflicted by organized crime and fuelled by addiction. Elders and families were living in fear, doors locked and blinds closed to what was going on.
“A lot of the negative influences were coming from a criminal element from outside the community,” Underwood said. “It creates a toxic environment that the community then has to live with.”
The example being set by Skwah with the Walk for Peace, and its desire to clean up the community, might eventually be used as a template to positively impact other communities across Canada.
“They’re letting the world know they don’t want to play this game anymore,” he said.
For more details about the Walk for Peace call Underwood at 604-792-8000 or Beth Williams at 604-799-7726.