Dr. Stanley Vollant has walked many a road in pursuit of his dreams. On Sept. 30, the Quebec Innu physician and trained surgeon walked 44 kilometres up the Cartwright Road in the second week of his journey to Sheshatshiu and spoke to the Labradorian about his mission.
He began this leg of his trek - the Innu Meshkanu (Innu Path) in Old Fort, Quebec-80 kilometres from the Southern Labrador border, but the real journey began a few years back and much farther away.
It was while he was working as a surgeon in Ottawa and helping to develop the University of Ottawa's Aboriginal Medical program in 2008 that Vollant decided the centre of his life needed to be refocused.
"I was a busy surgeon. I had three kids and I think my priorities were a bit confused," he said. "I needed a moment to rethink and realize what I had to do with my life."
He took time away from his work and traveled to Spain where he spent a month walking the Camino de Santiago-a 1000-year old pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where it is believed that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.
Nearing the end of his month-long journey Dr. Vollant developed a form of flesh eating disease from an infection in his toe that he had continued to walk on. He was hospitalized for 12 days and once healed, continued his journey. On the third night back on the road, he had a dream that he was walking through Labrador, Quebec and Ontario.
"In that dream, I dreamed about crossing the border of Labrador and Quebec. And I was meeting youth-kids, aboriginal youth and non-aboriginal youth and telling them about the importance of having dreams and pursuing and realizing your dreams."
He also received teaching from elders in his dream about his history and culture and traditional medicine.
"It was like a HD movie. It was very clear," he said.
For the next year, the dream stayed with him. He thought about the high drop out rates in first nations schools, the high levels of substance abuse among first nations, alcohol problems, mental health problems and violence. He finally decided he would carry out his vision.
"In my life I was lucky and I want to give back part of the chance I had when I was young to other first nations kids."
Raised by his grandparents on the Innu reserve of Pessamit in Northeastern Quebec, Vollant surpassed many expectations and went on to become a reputed doctor, surgeon and oncologist. His grandfather had wanted him to be a lawyer so he could defend the Innu people against such wrongdoing as they had seen with the damming of river and flooding of land in their territory. He was set to follow this route having finished his high school in Quebec City, but a chance encounter in his home community set him on a new path.
He was out walking with his friends one evening when he ran into a man who was intoxicated. The man set to congratulate a young Vollant on his decision to go to medical school and be a doctor to treat Innu People. He told him his parents were proud that he would be the first physician for the community and they could be treated in their first language.
"When I came home that night I thought, "well maybe it's a good idea. I'd have to think on it."
Although he despised the site of blood and fainted twice while in medical school, he did follow this new path and went even further to become a surgeon, oncologist and instructor. He was the first aboriginal surgeon in the province of Quebec and the first aboriginal President of the Quebec Medical Association.
Dr. Vollant still works as a doctor but since his return from Spain, has moved back to Quebec where he divides his time between a clinic in his home community of Pessamit and as coordinator of the First Nations Health Program in the Faculty of Medicine a the University of Montreal.
He began in the fall of 2010 near the Innu community of Natashquan. He had originally planned to walk from Davis Inlet all across Labrador through Quebec and Ontario but he decided to wait until word spread about his journey before coming to Labrador as he was already well-known in Quebec and wanted his message to be stronger and more meaningful.
With his work and parental duties he knew he couldn't do it all at once so he decided to take a few weeks each year over the space of five years to complete his 4000 kilometer journey. He finished that journey at Baie Commeau in less than a month after walking 620 kilometres. The first leg of that journey from Vieux Fort in Quebec to Natashquan covered a distance of 440 kilometres and he and fellow walkers completed it in March of 2011.
Dr. Vollant's plan is to visit every aboriginal community along his route by foot or snowshoe. He not only plans to spread a message of health for the youth, he also hopes to gain some knowledge from the elders he meets along the way, especially with regards to traditional medicine.
On Sept 16 he crossed the border into Labrador in pursuit of his dream.
"When I saw the sign Welcome to Labrador Newfoundland-welcome to the Big Land I thought wow I am walking into my dream."
He was met by 30 people of a population of 260 in the community of Lanse Au Clair, a number that impressed him. He is taking the time along the way to stop at schools and speak to students about healthy living and following their dreams. Sheshatshiu supporters eagerly awaiting his visit to the community greeted him on the Cartwright Road.
He plans to travel the next leg of his journey-from Davis Inlet and Natuashish to Sheshatshiu in the winter months and hopes to have Michel Andrew (Giant) accompany him. Giant carried out the trek from Natuashish to Sheshatshiu solo in 2009 as his own personal journey before he went on to carry out walks across Labrador and the Innu communities of Quebec to promote healthy living and tradition.
"If I can change one or two or three kids lives in each community, for me it would be mission accomplished," Vollant said.
Dr. Vollant said he has had some issues along the way including a return of the toe infection that originally led to his hospitalization in Spain but he is making sure to take better care of himself.
"I'm just saying to myself I am on the good path, I have to continue."
Dr. Vollant said he realizes his journey will not be over after the five years of walking.
"I am responsible for the seeds I plant and I know I will have to go back to these communities."