Despite being busy with studying criminology and playing hockey at the University of Manitoba, Tréchelle Bunn has organized a half marathon to raise awareness about the legacy of residential schools in Westman.
Bunn, who recently returned from Europe, where she played exhibition games with the Manitoba Bisons, organized a similar event last year on July 1. The healing walk began at the site of the former Birtle Indian Residential School in the community of Birtle, located 145 kilometres northwest of Brandon.
Bunn, a member of Chan Kagha Otina Dakhóta Oyáte, also known as Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, said the 26-kilometre walk was a way for her to honour her great-grandparents who attended the school.
“When I was young, my Unkan [grandfather] Donald would tell me stories about his time at the residential school and about how when he was there, he wanted nothing more than to just run away and go home,” Bunn said. “But he saw the consequences of what happened to his classmates and friends who did try to run away and got caught.”
Although the school was located close to her great-grandparents’ community, Bunn recalls her unkan telling her it felt like it was “a world away.”
“Being able to return to the school with my community and family, and walking home for all those who never returned home at all or who never got to walk home on their own terms, was really important to me and really symbolic.”
Last year’s event was a “reclamation of power” for residential school survivors, Bunn said, and she didn’t want to stop there.
“Everything the school stood for was to totally eradicate Indigenous peoples’ culture. And standing there with my family and community and other survivors on that day, and having a ceremony [with] an elder sharing a story at the beginning was just kind of proving that, [although] a lot of damage was done by residential schools, their goal to eradicate Indigenous people and culture failed.”
This year, Bunn teamed up with Dan Schwarz, who took part in last year’s walk with his family, to turn the event into an official Manitoba Runners’ Association-sanctioned half marathon, with a theme of “Movement is Medicine.”
In an email to the Sun, Schwarz, an avid marathon runner, said that after last year’s walk, he got in touch with Bunn to suggest making the event a yearly occurrence and turning it into a half marathon.
The symbolism of the run cannot be understated, according to Schwarz, who echoed Bunn’s wish to honour former residential school students.
“A child should never be removed from their family to be assimilated into another culture, nor should they have their culture taken away from them. Only through a greater understanding can we begin to bring about a true sense of reconciliation and find a way forward together.”
The “Movement is Medicine” theme was an idea that Bunn originally came up with, Schwarz said.
“There is the obvious aspect of the physical and psychological benefits of exercise. The second aspect is in the value of moving forward … this doesn’t mean forgetting the past, but rather confronting it and trying to find a way to move forward.”
Bunn agreed with the sentiment, saying it’s more important than ever for people from all walks of life and backgrounds to get involved in the truth and reconciliation process.
“I think we’re really seeing an awakening, and I think we have a long way to go still, but … we’re definitely headed down the right path, and I’m excited for the future generations and the change that’s going to continue to happen, hopefully.”
The event starts at 8 a.m. on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Prior to the start of the race, elder and residential school survivor Terry Wasteste will share his story and say a prayer. An honour song for all who participate in the run will follow.
Once all participants have made their way back to Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, a time of storytelling and reflection will commence, followed by a feast.
The cost to participate is $40 ($35 for members of the Manitoba Runners’ Association). Participants can register at runningroom.com.
Bunn plans to hold the event every year, in honour of her community and her family.
“Everything that I do is for my community. Quite literally, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the resilience of my Kunshi [grandmother] and Unkan.”
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun