Patricia Ballantyne, a residential school survivor, walked into North Bay yesterday afternoon on her way to Ottawa.
“It’s for healing,” she said of her journey, which she calls the Walk of Sorrow. “I started it for my own healing, and when people got wind of it after I started walking, they started joining me.”
“And we’re also walking for the little ones who didn’t come home from residential schools,” Ballantyne said, “and for our ancestors who suffered the same traumas that we have, and the residential school survivors” and the communities affected by that.
Entering town on highway 11, six vehicles plus an RV accompanied her. In total, about thirty people walked with her, although this number fluctuates depending on the region. With each town and village she passes through, others join, if only for a few kilometers, to demonstrate support.
Andie Kinney is one such person, who wanted to participate after closely following the Walk of Sorrow page on Facebook.
“I can’t describe my emotions,” she said, “they’re a mix of being so over-whelmed with the reality of the situation to feeling relieved that all of us are coming together.”
“This is just the beginning of something that is continuing, and just like us,” Kinney said, “it will never stop because we don’t. We go. We fight for what has been taken.”
“I’m going to go for as long as I can go,” she added, anticipating the continuation of the walk.
Kinney was not the only one waiting to revive the walk in that sun-soaked parking lot at the Mr. Gas station up the hill on Cedar Heights Road. Many from Nipissing First Nation were there to welcome Ballantyne and her fellow walkers, including Chief Scott McLeod.
Liberal MP Anthony Rota was there as well to greet the walkers, and a host of well-wishers, many wearing orange shirts emblazoned with Every Child Matters.
Ballantyne has no shortage of company on the road, as many First Nations invite her and her company in for meals and lodging.
Because of these connections, she’s “not going to rush it” to the Capital. It’s the journey that matters, a journey that educates Canadians about residential schools, and the collective trauma those institutions and policies inflicted on generations of First Nations people.
“It’s hard to let go of all the anger,” Ballantyne admitted, “but it’s easy to try and start to heal. Healing will reduce that anger and hopefully non-First Nations people will get a better understanding of how residential schools affected first nations people and their communities.”
Ballantyne began her cross-country trek at 8 a.m. on June 5. Her departure point was Old Residential School in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
About 2,500 kms and ten pairs of shoes later, she arrived in North Bay.
“As a First Nations people, we believe in our visions and our dreams,” Ballantyne said, “and when the Kamloops 215 came out, it really affected me and brought up all the memories and trauma that I went through in residential school.”
“I prayed hard after that for a couple of days and my grandma came to me and let me know what I was supposed to be doing to heal myself.”
Ballantyne also encourages those who see her walking, or who follow her on Facebook, “to learn and educate yourself about residential schools and what the government and the churches did with their policies against the First Nations people.”
“Anyone’s welcome to join us on our road.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.