'Every step was a prayer': First Nation members walk to raise awareness about drug toxicity

It took eight days for members of Muskoday First Nation and community groups to complete their 355-kilometre walk to raise awareness about drug toxicity in the province.

The walk began at Muskoday's band hall on June 10 and finished at the Legislative Building in Regina on Tuesday.

It's not the first time that community members have made the trek. Muskoday First Nation also organized a crystal meth and fentanyl overdose awareness walk last year.

Betty Prosper, one of the organizers of the walk, said it's important to raise awareness around drug toxicity.

"We want people to talk about fentanyl overdose because it affects a lot more people and we're left here to hurt, carry the pain. So share some of that pain, we'll carry it for you. We're not going to stop. We're going to keep going," she said.

This is the second year that the Muskoday First Nation has organized this walk. Betty Prosper, an organizer of the walk, said it’s important to raise awareness around drug toxicity.
This is the second year that the Muskoday First Nation has organized this walk. Betty Prosper, an organizer of the walk, said it’s important to raise awareness around drug toxicity. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

The latest report from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service said there were 174 confirmed and suspected drug toxicity deaths from Jan. 1 to May 31 this year. Last year, there were 371 confirmed and 91 suspected drug toxicity deaths, for a total of 462.

Prosper said there were 20 walkers at one point — despite the wind, colder temperatures and rain. She said what kept them going was the crisis at hand.

"It is urgent. We have an epidemic going on," she said. "There are a lot of people dying from fentanyl overdose. The crystal meth rates are really high."

Prosper said the province needs to work on getting people into treatment as soon as they're ready for it.

Shelley Asaican and her daughter, Keshia Cyr, joined the walk in Regina. Asaican lost her 28-year-old son Colin Kahnapace to fentanyl on March 12, 2023.

She said it was important for her to walk and honour her son.

"I wish that we could put a stop to it, but how would we do that?" Asaican said. "This generation is losing. That's what this means to me, why I did this, why it was so close."

Hundreds of people tuned in to a live broadcast of the walk, and supporters cheered them on from sidewalks and passing cars. Asaican said she felt good seeing people coming out to show solidarity.

Colin Kahnapace was 28 years old when he died because of drug toxicity last year. Shelley Asaican, his mother, remembers him as a grass dancer and a good student.
Colin Kahnapace was 28 years old when he died because of drug toxicity last year. Shelley Asaican, his mother, remembers him as a grass dancer and a good student. (Submitted by Shelley Asaican)

"The ones we've lost there, they mean something. They matter. Their lives matter. They were still a person," she said.

Asaican remembers Kahnapace as a grass dancer who danced and sang powwow, beating his own hand drum, and as someone who'd put his hand up right away when his teacher asked a question.

Erica Hennie, also an organizer with the walk, was joined by her six-year-old grandson. She said what stood out was the number of families they heard from along the way who've been directly impacted by the overdose crisis.

"It just doesn't affect the user, the addicted person. It affects everybody. So a lot of it was healing. Every step was a prayer."