When Matthew Jefferson reached Cape Spear on the eastern tip of this province June 25, it marked the end of one journey, but only the beginning of something bigger.
He had left Victoria, B.C. more than a year earlier on a campaign to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and to break down barriers between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.
In that time, the 32-year-old Jefferson travelled 8,275 kilometres, moved through 64 Indigenous communities and interacted with thousands of people along the way. He is on his third backpack and his sixth pair of sneakers.
Still, when he reached Cape Spear there was no feeling of triumph or accomplishment.
“You’d think that I’d be ecstatic and overjoyed that I had finished this walk,” Jefferson told a small group of people at The Mary March Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor Sunday afternoon. “Yes, I’m done the walk but I’m not done the work.”
While Jefferson spoke, his backpack sat on a table near the far wall of the room. Attached to the front of it was a photo of his aunt, Frances Brown. She and Jefferson’s mother are Witset First Nation in central British Columbia.
Brown went missing Oct. 14, 2017 while picking mushrooms north of Smithers, B.C and she still hasn’t been found.
She loved eagles and whenever Jefferson sees one flying overhead he wonders aloud if it is his auntie and he sends a prayer to her.
The picture makes it feel like Brown is with Jefferson every step of his journey, but there was a portion of his walk for which Brown’s picture was not attached to his backpack.
It wasn’t until he reached Port Hope, B.C. that he made the picture a part of his pack. Up until that point, Jefferson didn’t feel he was worthy to carry her photo.
Through his journey, Jefferson has learned there are people in this country that want to help but don’t know how.
Baby steps are what he spoke of. Learn the history of the land we’re on and its traditional name.
Learn the history and the culture of the people who occupied that land.
“You don’t have to learn their language, you just have to learn to respect it,” said Jefferson. “Then, with that new understanding, reach out to them in a respectful, humble way.”
Earlier this year, the results of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released.
It outlined 231 changes that need to be made by governments and the people of Canada to put an end to violence against Indigenous women and girls.
It isn’t just his aunt Frances who has connected Jefferson personally to the plight of missing Indigenous people in this country. His 16-year-old cousin, Colton Fleury, disappeared from Prince George over a year ago and hasn’t been seen since.
Although Jefferson is in the midst of writing a book about his journey, he has plans to cross Canada two more times.
Once on a bike next year, which he will film for a documentary, and the other the following year when he and others will run a marathon each day across Canada.
Another cousin, 18-year-old Jessica Patrick, disappeared in late August 2017. On Sept. 15, her body was found at the bottom of Hudson Bay Mountain. Jefferson said he had been raped and murdered. Patrick left behind a young son.
Jefferson walks for them.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the stories of Loretta Saunders, an Indigenous woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay murdered in Halifax, N.S., and Conne River’s Chantel John — allegedly murdered by her boyfriend Kirk Keeping — have brought this serious issue closer to home.
Jefferson walks for them too.
“This is my lifelong journey,” he said. “I’m helping to give a voice to those who don’t have one.”