The following article recounts memories of abuse at residential schools. The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
It began with a vision just a couple of weeks ago.
At his home in Telegraph Creek, B.C., as he thought about the 215 children found on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Jamie Henyu wanted to do something to help survivors and honour those who did not come home.
He decided he would walk to Kamloops, by himself.
That walk blossomed into the Warriors Walk for Healing Nations. It will travel from Whitehorse to Kamloops from June 25 to Aug. 9, with support from the Yukon’s Northern Nations Alliance.
“It means a lot,” Henyu said of watching his idea become a reality and a vision so many more have taken on. “This dream is taking off.”
In a June 24 interview, Henyu said it’s difficult to express just how much it means to him.
It was when Henyu took his idea to Jacqueline Shorty of the Northern Nations Alliance, a non-profit made up of volunteers from across northern B.C. and the Yukon, that the larger vision began to take shape.
When Henyu requested support from Shorty and the alliance, she responded with an initiation to start the walk in the Yukon.
Henyu agreed, knowing many from his nation in B.C. were brought to residential schools in the territory.
Henyu said he’s grateful to the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council for welcoming him to their traditional territories.
He said he’s also grateful for the support from his own nation, as well as his workplace, which has given him time off to do the walk.
Henyu said there are a few things he wants to come from the walk.
It’s important no one forgets the residential school system, he said.
“It affects a lot of people,” he said, noting the impacts are felt from elders to the youngest generation.
Henyu also wants to honour elders impacted. Many are hurting badly after the Kamloops discovery and other discoveries that have followed, given their own trauma suffered at residential schools, he said.
“I want to raise them up and bring them to a good place,” he said, also noting the importance of helping younger generations understand as well.
For Shorty and the Northern Nations Alliance, supporting Henyu’s idea was important.
One of the alliance’s recent projects was the four-day sacred fire ceremony at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre following last month’s discovery in Kamloops.
It was a way of addressing grief and trauma in a gentle, loving way; providing space for people as they needed; and moving forward in a unified way, Shorty said.
That mandate continues with the walk.
Shorty said it’s important to acknowledge the grief and pain many are feeling, including First Nations directly impacted and non-First Nations who are grieving after learning about residential schools. It’s also important to shift the consciousness toward healing as a community, with recognition that the past should not be repeated.
“Never again,” she said.
Shorty recalled her mother’s experience in residential school, noting her mother carried a lot of pain throughout her life.
When Shorty’s mother was about five years old, she witnessed the death of a young boy in the school’s infirmary. She had been trying to get help for the boy, knocking on the door of the room they were in to try and get staff, only to have that knocking ignored. As a result the boy died, Shorty said, and his body was taken away.
Shorty said her mother’s experience impacted her and her siblings, which in turn has had an impact on her own children.
As Henyu, Shorty and Lorraine Netro get set to make the full journey from Whitehorse to Kamloops, they will be joined by members in various communities along the route who will each travel a 10-kilometre section alongside them.
Netro has been working to organize those teams, with the stipulation that each team member be fully vaccinated.
In a June 24 interview, Netro reflected on the intergenerational impacts of residential school, recalling her mother often telling her about an uncle she would not meet until later in life.
Her uncle had been taken away to residential school when he was just six and spent much of his life in the Northwest Territories before coming back to Old Crow as an elder.
For Netro, the decision to walk to Kamloops came at the heels of compounded grief.
It was in her sister’s last days of life that the discovery of bodies in Kamloops was made. After her sister’s passing and celebration of life, Netro was taking some time for herself.
Shorty is a good friend and one day as they were meeting by the Yukon River in Whitehorse, Shorty mentioned Henyu’s idea.
Without giving it any thought, Netro told her friend she would be there with her on the walk.
“We both sat there and cried,” she said.
Netro said she is thankful for the prayers and support of her family, community and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation as she gets set for the journey.
“We’ll do this with a good mind, body and spirit,” she said.
Shorty said she and her team are grateful for the donations that have come from residents and local businesses for the walk. The group is still working to secure an RV for the journey along with some other items such as running shoes and rain gear.
The opening ceremony for the walk will begin at 2 p.m. on June 25 and will be streamed on Facebook Live at https://fb.me/e/S9KViAmx.
Walkers are set to begin at the former site of Yukon Hall, a student residence for aboriginal children from the 1960s until 1985. It later served as the Council of Yukon First Nations building before its demolition in 2009.
From the former Yukon Hall site, walkers will make their way up Robert Service Way to the Alaska Highway.
It will move to Teslin and Lower Post onto Junction 37 via the Stewart Cassier Highway to Kitwanga.
“We will walk the Highway of Tears to Prince George onto Kamloops,” notes the Facebook event page.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com