“The only way I see for myself, our relatives and our ancestors to find the closure we need is by bringing a lot more awareness and education about the true Canadian history,” said Kanesatake resident Al Harrington.
The incentive to bring consciousness to the harmful legacy of the residential school system is what motivated Harrington to organize a 1,000 KM walk set to begin on September 8.
The 20-day Spirit Children’s Walk will begin in Kanesatake where Harrington lives with his two Kanehsata’kehró:non children and their mother.
“I’ve been thinking about this idea ever since the first 250 children were found,” he said, referring to the unmarked graves discovered in Kamloops, BC. “I know this has been on the back of minds of Indigenous people right across Canada and the United States.”
The recent findings of children’s graves at former residential school grounds have caused nationwide grieving and a reckoning in calls for accountability from governments and churches responsible for operating the institutions.
The Ojibway man from Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation, a community straddling the border between Ontario and Manitoba, has been echoing the growing demands for concrete actions.
“We need to get this information into schools and everywhere else,” expressed Harrington. “As this digging and searching progresses every day, I can see it’s somehow going quiet and I really think it needs to continue to be the forefront and foremost story covered.”
It’s with this adherence to bring truth to light that drove Harrington to plan the walk, which will also serve to raise the $60,000 needed for a special memorial project he intends to unveil in the coming weeks.
An approximate $1,200 has already been raised through individual donations and the sale of “All Children Matter” t-shirts designed by Harrington being sold in local stores.
In his continued efforts to raise awareness and push for accountability, Harrington also intends to be at parliament for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30.
“Residential schools have had huge effects that are happening over generations and generations,” he said. “The way I see it, with my own eyes, is that I, too, am part of that genocide that the church and government attempted to do. It’s every generation and this is why we still need to continue this education.”
With less than three weeks to prepare for this journey, Harrington said he is conscious of the harrowing physical and emotional task at hand.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I really want to put myself in the shoes of those children who escaped – those who made it home and those who didn’t,” he said.
While planning the route, the father of two decided to end the itinerary in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where Shingwauk Indian Residential School was once located. The formerly federally-operated institution was attended by his children’s own great grandfather and great uncle.
While Harrington was planning this walk, never once did he stop thinking about the 1,000 Indigenous children from Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies and the Northwest Territories who attended it from1874 to 1970.
“I’ve been hearing about people from Kanesatake talking about their own grandparents, aunts and uncles, who all went to this school in Sault Ste. Marie,” he explained. “As this digging and searching progresses every day, I feel that we also need to talk about the ones that did escape. Those who survived, as well as those who ran away and didn’t make it.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door