Woman hopes walk from Prince Albert, Sask., to Ottawa will offer residential school survivors healing

·3 min read
Woman hopes walk from Prince Albert, Sask., to Ottawa will offer residential school survivors healing
Patrica Ballantyne, a survivor of the Prince Albert Indian Student Residental School, plans to walk from Prince Albert to Ottawa.   (Facebook.com/Patricia Ballantyne  - image credit)
Patrica Ballantyne, a survivor of the Prince Albert Indian Student Residental School, plans to walk from Prince Albert to Ottawa. (Facebook.com/Patricia Ballantyne - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Patricia Ballantyne says she still sees some of the people who physically abused her at the Prince Albert Indian Student Residential School in the community. She said she has to turn away out of fear of what she might do.

Ballantyne said the abuse she suffered from Residential school supervisors and staff as a small child still haunts her.

"For me it was a nightmare," she said.

Ballantyne will depart Saturday from the site of the former residential school in Prince Albert, Sask., and plans to walk to the nation's capital in honour of the children who lost their lives at the Kamloops Residential School in B.C. Ottawa is bout 2,300 kilometres from Prince Albert.

She hopes she inspires others who survived the system to speak up.

"I want them to be able to share their stories," she said.

For her, talking about her experiences has brought relief.

"Even if they don't want to talk about it and just come for the walk, maybe it will lift their spirits. Maybe it will heal them."

Once in Ottawa, she hopes to meet with Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller to talk about reform within the First Nations Child Family Services system.

She said that even today, too many Indigenous children are being taken from their families. She called for the current system to be abolished and replaced with a more culturally focused approach.

Ballantyne said the discovery of an unmarked burial site believed to contain the remains of about 215 children in Kamloops was emotionally hard.

"If I was that parent, I'd be devastated," she said. "I'd be forever wondering, 'where is my child?'"

She also said she wonders why the people who abused her and other children taken from their families have not been held accountable.

"The names of these preachers, nuns, supervisors, executive supervisors … they've all been named, so how come the government is not charging these people?" she asked.

In Saskatchewan, community members and experts believe there are more than 566 children who died while attending residential schools, almost 200 of whom remain unidentified.

In late May, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and the Saskatchewan government called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all federal parties to take swift action to locate and identify any mass burial sites at the province's 20 residential schools.

"Many of our survivors are still healing and still grieving," said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said earlier this week. "We hope to help in some way in finding closure for them."

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron is calling for the federal government to examine every residential school site in Saskatchewan for unmarked burial sites.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron is calling for the federal government to examine every residential school site in Saskatchewan for unmarked burial sites.(Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

In a statement from Miller's office, he acknowledged that "far too many" First Nations children have experienced harm in the child and family services system and said is office is working to address issues.

"The over-representation of First Nation children in care is a product of the intergenerational impacts of our colonial history. Canada has committed to and has undertaken significant reform to the First Nation Child and Family Services system," the statement said.

Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

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