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Friends embark on epic canoe journey to help Indigenous communities get clean drinking water

Saultites set to paddle over 250 kilometres from site of Shingwauk Residential School to site of Spanish Residential School

To help make a difference in Indigenous communities across Ontario, Lue Mahaffey and Paige Simon will be embarking on the journey of a lifetime by paddling in solidarity from Shingwauk Residential School (Algoma University) to the Spanish Residential School in the hope of raising $75,000 for clean drinking water.

The idea sparked when Mahaffey learned of the tragedy in Kamloops B.C. on the discovery of unmarked graves. 

“I was actually in a car when I read the article, and I just broke down,” said the community support services worker at Thessalon First Nation and Daystar Native Outreach. 

“Just thinking about the fact that Canada spent more years burying their history than they have at allowing for the voices to speak, in particular, Indigenous people to speak and share,” Mahaffey said. 

After hearing the news, that is when she picked up the phone and called Simon. After hearing the news too, Simon also wanted to make a difference for Indigenous communities.

“We started this initiative called Canoe For Every Child,” said Simon, a second-year student at Algoma University and member of Eabametoong First Nation (Fort Hope). 

“It reminded me personally of how much that Canada doesn’t know about our history. Growing up Indigenous and learning so much about our history, there’s still so much that I don’t know and that I continue to learn. 

“I really wanted to do something for the children of today but also reflect on the past and raise awareness for things that people don’t know about,” she said.

And raising money for clean drinking water is exactly how the two plan to help. Mahaffey says that she had heard clean drinking water had been a concern for many Indigenous communities. 

“It was an Indigenous person who said, 'That if you want to show that you care, then help us get clean drinking water,'” she said.

Through their research, they have learned 40 per cent of Indigenous communities in Ontario are under boil water advisors. 

“That’s thousands of people, and the fact that’s still happening today in Canada, I think it’s wrong,” said Mahaffey.

Mahaffey is not indigenous and hopes to see other people who aren’t Indigenous get behind this initiative and support or even support in different ways to show the community they care. 

“Paige and I want to support, and we also want to learn from them (Indigenous members) as well and grow in relationship,” she said. “I think that’s why I get excited about Paige and I doing this because her being First Nation and me not being First Nation, I think we’re united and want to see change happen that’s positive. And that will impact the Indigenous communities, but I believe it will impact the non-indigenous communities," Mahaffey said. 

Mahaffey and Simon will begin their journey on Saturday, July 24 at 11 a.m. from Bellevue parking and making their way along Lake Huron. A trip that is expecting to take them between two to two and a half weeks. 

“We’ve got a tent and all the supplies that we need,” said Simon. “We’re going to camp along the way, and it’s 258 kilometres worth of paddling.”

Their journey will consist of paddling five and a half hours a day on average, depending on the weather. They hope to stop in some places, raise awareness, and create opportunities for people to learn and hear their initiative. 

Canoeing was the choice for Mahaffey and Simon, given their 11-year friendship and history with paddling together. 

“At Thessalon First Nation where my grandparents live,” Simon said. "I would go down to the dock every day when I was a kid, and Lue and Chris would take the older youth on canoe trips every summer, and I always wanted to go, but I was too young.

“When I was old enough to start going on the trips, Lue and I started to bond a lot, especially over the years. She taught me how to paddle and read the river. It’s something that I’ve carried with me for so long and it’s something that we do together often,” Simon said. 

Mahaffey and Simon hope to raise $75,000, and over $10,000 has already been raised. as Simon says, the number can be broken down easily.

“Looking at that as a whole, seems like a very large number,” said Simon. “But the estimated number of children that attended residential schools in Canada is 150,000. And all we’re trying to do is get 50 cents for each child,” she said.

The pair has partnered with Water First NGO, and the money will be used for scholarships and help educate individuals on how to create sustainable water and create jobs for people in the community.

“The goal would be for it to go to their Indigenous internship program where they invite Indigenous youth and young adults and even adults if they're interested in entering a paid internship,” Mahaffey said. 

“They will get certified to be able to actually run what’s necessary for providing clean water within their communities,” she said.

Mahaffey and Simon are excited and eager to begin their journey, but ultimately they are excited to see change. 

“We’re just excited for the adventure and the chance to get to hopefully do something that is respectful and honouring for the people from the past and the communities still impacted today,” Mahaffey said. 

To follow their journey or to donate, go to https://linktr.ee/canoeforeverychild