Dayna McKay was honoured on Tuesday for her swim to raise money to fight cancer by the Assembly of First Nations at their general meeting in Toronto. A ceremony was held for her at the meeting led by the National Chief, Shawn Atleo.
“I didn’t realize this swim would touch people of all Nations. I heard a lot of drums, a lot of singing and chanting while I was in the water,” said McKay at the national assembly.
On last month’s National Aboriginal Day, McKay swam the 52 kilometres from Lax Kw’alaams to Prince Rupert in 19 hours. To put that in perspective, the most commonly used route to swim across the English Channel between the UK and France is 34 kilometres.
It was her uncle, Billy Sampson, who inspired McKay’s swim to raise money for cancer research, which was called Into the Sea Cancer-Free. Sampson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009 and is still fighting the disease.
“The most important part for me was that my uncle Billy was there the whole time, from the planning, to the preparation, to when I started the swim and when I arrived. It was all about him,” says McKay.
“It really changed him. He saw people who care and wanted him to make it through. It gave him hope, it encouraged him and was an inspiration.”
McKay’s mission appears to have resonated with many people and has gathered both provincial and national attention. Now even the National Assembly of First Nations is singling her out as a role model.
“A leader creates hope and helps us believe that the future will be better. Dayna McKay is a true leader – she inspires others and helps us to believe in a brighter future . . . She has drawn our attention to the importance of cancer prevention and research for a cure. Thank you to Dayna for her efforts and to the entire community that supported her,” says grand chief Doug Kelly, Chair of the First Nations Health Council.
The Interim First Nations Health Authority has decided that McKay’s swim should be commemorated with a new annual event starting next Aboriginal Day. So, they will be organizing five to 10 kilometre runs/walks across BC to raise awareness of health issues facing First Nations people and communities, with cancer awareness being a major theme.
“We want to celebrate the achievements of her historic swim and extend well wishes to her family and community, and hope for her Uncle Billy and all those battling cancer a swift recovery. Dayna’s accomplishment shows us that wellness starts with the individual and is supported by our families, communities and health systems,” says the health authority’s CEO, Joe Gallagher.