Hannah Tooktoo grew up in Northern Quebec with her Inuk family and community.
Over the course of her life, she has seen too many friends and family taken away by suicide, and the ripple effect it has on the community. In December, four of her friends and family lost their lives to suicide.
“Anirnimi Kipisina” is a phrase Tooktoo wants to spread on her journey. It translates to “Do not cut your life short.”
When Tooktoo was thinking about how to heal herself, she also came up with the idea to raise awareness for the cause across Canada.
This is when Tooktoo got the great idea to do a cross-Canada cycling trip.
“I was alone and just creating, and I thought maybe I can do this, maybe I can walk or bike across Canada,” Tooktoo said.
When she suggested the idea to her husband, he embraced her idea. With the help of her friend Sarah Paul, she began planning the trip. Then, beforehand, she met with Deb Landry who would become her driver and support for the journey. When she left home, she hugged her husband and three-year-old daughter and set out on the life-changing journey.
She began Hannah’s Journey Across Canada on June 8 in Victoria, and made her way westward. On June 25, Tooktoo arrived in Golden for a day of rest. She was greeted by Metis Nation Columbia River Society’s Davene Dunn, and enjoyed a day around town.
“Sometimes, trying to battle your mental health is like climbing a mountain,” Tooktoo said, adding that more needs to be done to address mental health in Indigenous communities. “We need to bring awareness, and bring strength.”
In the first 10 days, Tooktoo conquered more than 350 kilometres on her bicycle. She is listening to her body, and training as she goes, taking breaks when needed. Each day, a different thought or theme will come to her, and she dedicates many kilometres to specific causes, thinking about them with each turn of the wheels.
“We grew up with food insecurity, people having to deal with a lot of issues, and coping with it through alcohol,” Tooktoo said. “I had people growing up, feeling suicidal. Everybody’s hurting. We had waves of colonization. People internalize that. Now we have lateral violence.”
Colonization and hardships in Tooktoo’s community and those across Canada aren’t so far in the past. Nearly all of her aunts and uncles attended residential schools, where they were separated from their families.
“It’s hard on your heart. I think everybody I know has been affected by suicide all my life. I’ve lost good cousins… it’s always happening,” she said. “Even if it’s not in my family, I’m probably going to know who that person is. It’s always grieving.”
Along her journey, she has met many Indigenous communities who have shared their stories of pain and suffering. In Victoria, she had a touching send off from people who were experiencing the same issues with suicide in their community. In Hope, they suffered through colonization, the gold rush, and more.
“You can only imagine what kind of effects that would have,” she said. “It;s pretty heavy, always visiting your pain.”
When Tooktoo set out on her journey, she didn’t anticipate the huge response she would receive.
“I appreciate everyone who comes out to see me,” she said. “I didn’t set out to make it so huge. I wanted to try to share the history of my region.”
Tooktoo’s driver, Landry, has seen the way people gravitate toward her on this journey.
“I think there’s a lot of people who want to be an ally,” she said. “She goes through these spaces, and people are drawn to her. She’s fearless. It has been inspiring to watch her.”
Anyone can follow Hannah’s Journey Across Canada on Facebook to stay updated on where she is, and she is accepting donations at www.gofundme.com/hannah039s-journey-across-canada.