Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
They say a half-Siberian Husky half-wolf is a man’s best friend and for Kura and her human, Brett Merchant, this has been true. They’ve faced grizzly bears, a white bear, a noisy squirrel and countless friendly faces on their walk along the Highway of Tears in honour of missing and murdered women and children. “She doesn’t bark. Her ears face forward and she is still,” Merchant says while holding her lead. “Kura’s great!” he says, with great pride.
The two have walked facing traffic for what will be 1236 kilometres in total, from the Welcome to BC sign at the Alberta/BC border beginning on September 1 to Mile 0 in Masset. They landed on Haida Gwaii Thursday. Merchant was told about the potlatch happening in Gaaw Old Massett while on the ferry and he changed his plans to attend. He will hitchhike up to to attend the potlatch and then walk back down to the ferry terminal.
Brett Merchant is from Kimberley. “There’s about 2 feet of snow there right now,” he says, peeling off his hoodie and standing in his shorts and florescent yellow shirt in the late afternoon sun. His arms shake but it’s not from the cold. Merchant is suffering with SLE lupus, early onset dementia and diabetes. “This is great weather. I may just stay a while,” he says, lifting his face towards the warm sun.
“Lots of places I’ve been and beautiful people, everywhere. Even on the highway. People honking their horn, waving, stopping and bringing you water. Salmon sandwiches. I wish I had a pick up because of the jars of salmon people give. I’ve had so many you could get a pick up load, and I say, oh I wish I could take it but we’re too heavy as it is,” he exclaims!
His website states that he is raising funds for “the next generation of aboriginal women. It will help provide women with an alternative, safe, emergency shelter to go to. While I cannot undo the murders that have occurred along the Highway of Tears, I hope by raising awareness during my 1236 km walk I can help prevent further injustice from happening”.
Merchant’s dog Kura has been popular along the walk and his veterinarian friend has checked Kura along the journey and also given the dog saddle packs to carry her own food, water, brush, and a teddy bear.
The teddy bear belongs to a missing daughter whose mother gave Merchant the teddy bear and asked him to put it into the ocean in honour of her life. It’s an added weight to an already heavy journey, he says, holding the teddy bear. “It’s an honour [to be asked] I will carry out”. He explains that he values the trust he has been given and that the relationship between him and the families of missing and murdered women and girls and boys he has met is valuable to him.
“When you’re out there walking those long days sometimes with no one around. It makes you think you can only imagine because you have not been in their shoes, but it must have been tough for those ladies to go missing or murdered. Those men and boys too,” he says, pausing before adding that there are people on his journey he would like to see again.
“The people are so nice,” he says, longingly, his head bobbing slightly.
Merchant arrived in HlGaagilda with a heavy heart as his walk is almost over. “The journey will never end; it will always be. It will always be,” he says, and wistfully adds, “it’s when you get to the end, it’s when you will want to do more. But I know this has really done me in,” he says sweeping his hands over his body. The spirit is there but the body is failing. It’s hard to ignore that despite his illnesses he’s made a difference to others and to himself.