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Purple Ribbon Walk honours cancer fighters

(Kahawihson Horne, The Eastern Door)

The Tetewatatia’takéhnhahs Purple Ribbon Walk took off at 6 p.m. last Saturday night (August 24) in the parking lot of Karonhianónhnha School. Thousands of luminaries lined the walkway and many local and non-locals and organizations such as Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), Caisse Populaire, and the Kateri Memorial Hospital Center, were present to show their support.

The walk began with the presentation of a staff to honour the caregivers of cancer victims, with an eagle feather to show support. The staff was then handed to elder Joe Jacobs, who led the procession of cancer victims and survivors, as well as their friends, families, and caregivers, onto the path while singing in Kanien’kéha.

The walk grew out of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which took place in the community for a few years before it was decided that much of the money that went to the foundation for research elsewhere could be used for the exclusive benefit of the community 

This was decided at a kitchen table gathering of women from Kahnawake, all of whom either had cancer themselves or had a relative who suffered from that illness. 

At this meeting, Candida Rice said, “The woman who was running the Relay (Eleanore Paul) said that she was retiring from doing it in the community. So we decided to change it, to make it our own. So, the name (Tetewatatia’takéhnhahs) was born out of ‘We will help each other,’” said Rice.

The purpose was for the Purple Ribbon Walk to help people in their time of need with any financial burdens that may occur or become more stressful as a result of their serious illness. 

Luminaries are bought every year in honour of friends or relatives who have battled cancer and displayed to remember and celebrate them. According to Lynn Leborgne, the number sold was roughly around 2,000, in comparison to last year, in which the final turnout was 1,200. Leborgne did not attribute this number to anything in particular, but she believed this year’s turnout to be the highest since it started four years ago. 

Sheila Whitebean, who has been volunteering at the event since it began, and whose daughter Roxann fought cancer and won, stressed that it is important to understand that there are diverse financial circumstances in which one may find themselves in the event of a serious illness, along with very specific treatments that affect their income or financial situation to various degrees. 

“The importance of this event is not only to support the people with cancer, but the funds that are raised through this really helps people with cancer in that it’s very, very expensive to take a trip to the hospital,” she said. 

“You have to pay parking, and it’s $25, and sometimes treatments run for six to seven hours long. It depends on you and the treatment.” 

With her own involvement and the proceeds derived from the event, Whitebean said, “I know how much it benefits a family. You never know who needs it.” 

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