The Walk of Sorrow participants arrived in Kirkland Lake, Ontario on Wednesday August 4 to create awareness of the residential school era and to acknowledge the support of local First Nations. The walk was led by Patricia Ballantyne, a First Nation Cree from the Deshchambault Lake community of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. This June she felt a need to do something in light of the discovery of multiple unmarked grave sites near former residential schools across the country. As a residential school survivor herself, she wanted others to learn more about the terrible history of government sanctioned residential schools that affected generations of people and led to the deaths of thousands of Indigenous children.
“I wanted to do something because of all the pain and emotion that I felt and from everyone around me. We need to talk about this history so that everyone, both Native and non-Native, can understand what happened behind closed doors. Then we can start healing as a nation,” said Ballantyne.
She started her walk with her niece Sasha Michel from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and supporters have been joining on the way. They have have stopped in many Indigenous communities, cities and towns on the walk where they have been warmly greeted and supported. The group has the goal of arriving in Ottawa and the hope of meeting with government officials to address the residential school era and current issues dealing Indigenous child and family services.
“This is a spiritual healing journey for us. It is not a protest of any kind. We just want to be heard. We want everyone to know what the residential school era was about and what it has done to our people, our culture, our languages and our communities. It is also our hope that at the end of our journey, we can start making changes to government programs and policies that continue to affect our families and our children in negative ways,” explained Ballantyne.
On the 63rd day of their cross country walk, Ballantyne was grateful to Chief Wayne Wabie of Beaverhouse First Nation for inviting the group to visit the Town of Kirkland Lake. Chief Wabie, joined Ballantyne and her group as they walked through the downtown core to the Beaverhouse FN office.
“We were honoured to have Patricia and her group in the community and we were happy to see everyone that came out to show their support. The recent awareness that has occurred across the country with residential schools is part of Canada’s history and it is knowledge that everyone should understand. What Patricia and her group is doing to raise awareness is spreading an important message that needs to be communicated to our government and to the public so that there is a true understanding of the history that Indigenous populations have identified for generations,” said Chief Wabie.
During a small gathering at the Beaverhouse FN administration building, Ballantyne and her group were also greeted by Chief Alex (Sonny) Batisse of Matachewan FN. A special presentation of monetary support was also conducted by Councillor Stan Fox of Matachewan FN. Other gifts and donations were also presented.
“We were honoured to visit with Patricia and her group and to see everyone gathered to acknowledge the sad history that all our communities live with. We wish her the best on her journey,” said Chief Batisse.
Mayor Pat Kiely was also on hand to lend his support, to meet with Ballantyne and to acknowledge the history of the residential school era.
“This is a significant time as it is bringing to light all the issues that have taken place in our northern communities. I think for Canada, it serves as a wake up call for everyone and a time for reconciliation. We always think of Canada as being a free country with all its freedoms that we have but there is a dark side of our history and we have to do our best to reconcile with our all neighbours,” commented Mayor Kiely.