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Walk to Ottawa draws attention for grandparents' rights

Marlene Carriere is walking to Parliament Hill to continue her journey fighting for grandparents' rights in child custody cases.

Marlene Carriere is walking from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba to all the way to the parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Originally, Carriere planned to start on July 3 and go until July 30, however she was delayed as she needed a driver for her vehicle and a walker to accompany her. A few days later, Carriere’s granddaughter came down from the north to join her, and she began her walk on July 7 at 5:45 a.m.

The walk is called the Indigenous Grandparents Rights and Ancestral Walk.

This is Carriere’s third walk of its kind. Her first walk was in 2006, called Kokum’s Rights and it was for her fight to get custody of her grandchildren through the courts

“In our culture, and our ancestry, we don’t go that way,” says Carriere. “Because traditionally, the grandchildren belong to us if something goes wrong with the parents.”

Carriere was fighting for her grandchildren for a whole year, and was told that she didn’t belong in the courtroom as she didn’t have grandparents’ rights. She couldn’t even tell her grandchildren’s stories because she was considered third party.

“The last day of the court, I said to that judge, you wait to see what I can do,” says Carriere. “Because I’m a Kokum.”

She left that courtroom and went back up north to Cranberry Portage and started announcing that she was going to do a walk.

“I had no idea what I was going to do, but I just did it,” says Carriere.

Carriere started this initial walk in Winnipeg on the number 6 highway with her two little cousins, aged 10 and 13. She had people meet her along the way, and they got her a satellite phone was helped her to book a 15-passenger van to help walkers.

“That was a long walk, but we made it, with ups and downs,” says Carriere.

Together they walked all the way to the legislative buildings. One Manitoba legislative assembly minister said to her, ‘if it wasn’t for this walk Marlene, there would be no rights.’

In October 2006, she was successful in getting her grandchildren back through the courts.

“The right judge came on the right path at the right time,” says Carriere.

Then in November 2006, a private members bill was passed for grandparent’s rights in Manitoba.

In 2009, Carriere was in Kitchener, Ont., and she was working on her masters in social work. Part of her thesis was ‘To Walk to Ottawa’ and ‘Indigenous Grandparents Rights.’ So again, she walked to Ottawa, her as a great grandmother and another grandmother with her. They completed this walk in only 12 days.

Now on this journey in 2023, Carriere felt again compelled by her intuition to walk again.

“This one was going to be the Indigenous Grandparents Rights and Ancestors Walk, because I’ve been getting a lot of messages from the ancestors, and the unborn children, and the children of unmarked graves,” says Carriere. “It’s all about healing now.”

Being a professional, Carriere has had many meetings with other professionals, but prefers to take action herself to further create change.

Already with this years walk she has faced several challenges; the rain, finding a driver and walkers. Luckily, despite the setbacks, she was joined by a young couple, one of whom cycled 17 kilometres in support of this walk.

“I’m very grateful because people are starting to realize that this is much bigger than just me, this has got to be done,” sys Carriere. “I can’t give up.”

Carriere had won custody of her grandchildren in 2006, and was able to give them back to their mother in 2009. Their mother had been sober for nine years at that time. Unfortunately, unknown to her family, she fell back into addiction and passed away only two years ago. Carriere became the full-time caregiver for the children once again, and put her walks for grandparents’ rights on hold.

Carriere has just one son left now, but she is a Kokum to many grandchildren, and one great-grandson now too. However, Carriere has shifted her focus from her own fight for her grandchildren, to now be walking for all grandparents.

“They will know about the trauma, but they don’t have to carry it,” says Carriere. “It’s not just my culture, it’s across all the cultures, I want healing.”

Her grandchildren are older now, the oldest is 25 and the youngest is 15, they are able to be on their own now more often, and Carriere has once again been able to carry on her mission.

According to Carriere, the Indigenous people carry the trauma of residential schools, the 60’s scoops, the sanitoriums, the foster care system, the justice system and so many things in their treaties.

“That’s a big load. Absolutely. But so many cultures carry their own historical trauma, so why don’t we put that historical trauma down now,” says Carriere. “This is not just about Marlene, it’s about all of us.”

Carriere teaches her grandchildren, ‘we’re all in it together, no matter what colour or what culture, so let’s be together’.

“That’s what the elders say, because look what it’s gotten us, the children are hurting,” says Carriere. “And they’re leaving this world too early.”

Carriere is strong and healthy, has no addictions of her own, and has had her own healing journey. Now she walks for the others on their healing journey’s.
“I’m on a mission and I’m on an adventure, it’s a magical journey,” says Carriere. “If Terry Fox could do it, then I can do it too.”

Carriere has a Facebook page documenting her journey, Indigenous Grandparents Rights and Ancestral Walk for those who want to follow along. She is looking for people to join her walk, even if its just in your community; you can document your kilometres and send them along to to her.

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