Second walk honours Delmas residential school students, survivors

·3 min read

It was a blisteringly hot afternoon — over 30 degrees and climbing — as dozens of residential school survivors and their supporters walked along Highway 16 towards the town of Delmas.

The walkers left Little Pine First Nation on Friday morning to make the 40-kilometre trek for the second annual walk to honour the Delmas residential school students and survivors.

Reached during the last leg of the walk, with just over an hour to go before reaching the Delmas Community Hall, organizer Sonya Pete said the group on the highway made a powerful sight.

"We're out here to raise awareness," she said. "We have our orange shirts on; we have our flags.

"We want people to know and remember that there was a residential school in Delmas at one time."

In July 2021, the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs began the search for unmarked graves at the site of the former Delmas/Thunderchild Indian Residential School.

The school was operated by the Roman Catholic Church for nearly 50 years before it burned down in 1948.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report described the school as overcrowded and said that many students had died of contagious illnesses like tuberculosis, typhoid and pneumonia.

Pete, who serves as chair of the Little Pine residential school survivors group, said walks like this one help people remember and talk about what happened at these schools.

"Last year, when we did our first walk, it wasn't too long after they had found the unmarked graves," she said. "We felt the need to do something, because Delmas was the school where a lot of our relatives went ... and every one of us are related to a residential school survivor.

"So we wanted to put the awareness out there and we wanted to encourage healing within our community. This whole event brought our community together."

Pete said the walks will continue for another two years, for a total of four.

"In our culture, we do things for four years," she said. "When you have a feast for a loved one that has passed on, you do it for four years. So four years is a special number."

Pete said there has been a lot of support for the walk and everyone involved has helped to make it "a really good day."

"We have an RCMP escort," she said. "We have people on the side making sure we have nice, cold water. If people get too hot, we're taking them to buses. We have our Little Pine First Nation security with us as well.

"We have quads going up and down the line, just making sure that everybody is safe and staying together in the lineup."

And, she said, even more support has come from the people who have been passing by them on the highway.

"We're getting a lot of folks driving by, semis honking at us, people waving," she said. "It feels really good to see that support from the people that are driving by, and I do hope that they go home and sit at their supper table tonight and talk about it with their family."

Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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