Sask. man completes 300-km snowshoe trek to recognize Timber Bay Children's Home as a residential school

·4 min read
Saskatoon's B’yauling Toni is pictured with Brian Hardlotte, Prince Albert grand council grand chief, Staff Sgt. Brian Kelly from the Saskatchewan RCMP Indigenous Policing Services, and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson. (Jim Searson - image credit)
Saskatoon's B’yauling Toni is pictured with Brian Hardlotte, Prince Albert grand council grand chief, Staff Sgt. Brian Kelly from the Saskatchewan RCMP Indigenous Policing Services, and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson. (Jim Searson - image credit)

For several nights, a Saskatoon man camped trail-side with only a sleeping bag and a small fire, sometimes braving temperatures below -30 C.

On Dec. 18, B'yauling Toni, 21, a non-Indigenous engineering student at the University of Saskatchewan, began an approximate 300-kilometre snowshoe trek to Timber Bay Children's Home in northern Saskatchewan.

He completed his journey on Dec. 28.

Toni is advocating for the children's home to be officially declared a residential school — something that the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) sought for many years.

"I think as a non-Indigenous person we have a lot of responsibility to really take that first step in reconciliation. We often talk about rebuilding that relationship, but for too long we still wait for Indigenous people to take the first step and to kind of fight their way back," Toni said in an interview with CBC News.

"But if that's what we truly want, we have to be the first one to step out there. So I think that as a non-Indigenous person, as a Canadian who benefits from colonization, it's so important that I go out and give that recognition."

Timber Bay Children's Home, located about 105 kilometres north of Prince Albert, was open from 1952 to 1994 and housed hundreds of students drawn from the LLRIB and across northern Saskatchewan.

It was founded by the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission, and later operated by the Brethren in Christ Conference.

LLRIB fought for years in court to have the Timber Bay Children's Home recognized as a residential school and secure compensation for the students who attended the institution.

In 2017, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that while Timber Bay housed students who attended schools elsewhere, it wasn't directly government-run and was not eligible for residential school status.

The Supreme Court of Canada chose not to hear the LLRIB's appeal.

As a result, survivors of the institution aren't eligible for compensation under the residential school settlement that awarded $1.9 billion to thousands of victims.

Indigenous leaders, survivors welcome Toni

Toni arrived at the site of the former Timber Bay Children's Home — just outside Montreal Lake Cree Nation — late Tuesday afternoon and was greeted by survivors of the home and Indigenous leaders including Montreal Lake Cree Nation Chief Joyce McLeod-Naytowhow, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Karen Bird, and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.

"It was unbelievable, the people who came out and the community there. We had supper. I felt quite honoured," Toni said.

Jim Searson
Jim Searson

Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte snowshoed with Toni during the homestretch of his trek.

"I was really honoured by being in his presence," Hardlotte said. "I commend him for this walk, for this cause. He's a brave, courageous young man to be able to do this on behalf of the survivors of the Timber Bay Children's Home."

Hardlotte says those survivors endured the same trauma of being taken away from their communities, families, culture and language, as the survivors who were forced to attend institutions officially recognized as residential schools.

"I really call on the federal government to recognize this residential school and to compensate the survivors. They're entitled to it," Hardlotte said.

The forgotten pair of moccasins

On Tuesday, Toni was able to deliver a forgotten pair of moccasins.

In the summer, Toni rode his bike more than 3,000 kilometres to every federally recognized residential school in Saskatchewan. At each of the 20 locations, Toni presented tobacco ties and infant moccasins.

He only heard of the Timber Bay Children's Home by word of mouth while on his journey, and so he became determined to deliver the final pair of moccasins.

Toni said he will continue to advocate and support residential school survivors.

"Building that relationship for the first time with Indigenous people is a lifelong thing, and I think I'll be learning about this for the rest of my life, so I'm sure there'll be many more things to come," Toni said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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