After hearing about the unmarked graves at the residential school in Kamloops, B.C., Patricia Ballantyne decided to walk from Prince Albert to Ottawa on a journey of healing.
Ballantyne set out on the journey alone initially, but was joined by others—family members, friends, supporters and other survivors—as her walk progressed.
Ballantyne was in Moosomin on Saturday, June 19 and spoke with the World-Spectator before continuing on her walk. Monday night, she was at Shoal Lake, Man. Ballantyne is hoping to reach Ottawa in August and speak with politicians there about current-day childcare policies.
To track her progress, visit Patricia Bellantyne on Facebook.
Following are her comments when she spoke with the World-Spectator in Moosomin:
How did you come up with the idea to do this?
It was just a spur of the moment thing. After the news with the Kamloops Residential school, it re-triggered my trauma. It brought up everything about my childhood and I started thinking about all the little children and those poor babies and how we couldn’t protect ourselves.
And then I started thinking about the parents, what the government must have said or what the schools must have said to them or even if they were told or if they ever knew.
It just got too much for me over that weekend. It took a couple days for it to all just soak in, and it just got too much for me. I was having a hard time sleeping, and I thought I’m going to take a walk, and that helped. So I thought I need to take a walk. It was healing, it was therapeutic for me to walk, when I went for a walk. So I thought well I’m going to take a walk. I’ve got to heal myself. This is something I need to do.
So I just decided. The best thing I could do for our people is to make it known, and I thought I’ll do a walk. I didn’t know about the name right away. I said I’m going to do a walk for my people to help them start their healing, bring the message out there that we need to get together, come together and start healing.
And then the name came to me, and I thought we’ll do the walk of sorrow. I’ll call it the Walk of Sorrow. It was just by myself, it wasn’t with anyone else or planning with anybody. I was just by myself and that was how it was going to go.
My common-law, he knows he can’t stop me once I set my mind to something. He asks “where are you going?” And I said well I’m going by myself. I’m going to stop in PA. I got my little bit of clothes, grabbed my supplies that I need. I have my tent to carry, and my blankets, and it’s not going to be cold. He goes “Well are you going alone?” And I said “Well yeah. Why not? I just need to do something,” I told him, so I just left.
I posted it and let my friends know and one friend shared it saying “This is what my friend’s going to do. She’s going to walk to Ottawa and hopefully bring light to this residential school and how it really is, how it really was and she’s going to be walking for those little ones.”
So she put it out there and then my niece Sasha inboxed me and said “Are you serious aunty? Are you really going to do this?” And I said yeah. “Are you alone?” And I said yeah. “Well not anymore, I’m going to go with you. I’ll go meet you in PA.” And I said “Okay!” And then the night before, at 11 that night, I had all my things ready to go because I was going to leave that night to go stay in PA. And my step-daughter contacts me and says “Is this like a for real thing? You’re going to take off?” I said yeah. And she goes “Well, who are you going with?” I said “So far my niece Sasha. Me and Sasha.” She goes “Well I think I need to do something for myself too.” Because she’s part of the system too and grew up in the system. So she goes “Is it okay if I come take a walk with you, I need to do some healing too.” And I said yes!
So there were three of us and then my friend from up north come down and she said “You’re really doing this? I thought I’d check it out and see if you’re really here.” She showed up and she walked with us too, but a family emergency had to turn her back.
After that there was an elder that came and saw me in PA. I guess he heard about it through Facebook. And he said “Before this even happened we knew somebody was going to walk to Ottawa but we just didn’t know who. When my daughter told me about you I had to come pray for you and pray with you, smudge, and do the whole ceremonial thing.”
So we did that and it just felt great that I was getting support that I wasn’t even looking for, and from there it just took off and along the way we’ve been picking up people. There’s me and my step-daughter and my nephew. My nephew and my step-daughter are from Montreal Lake. Me and my niece are from Deschambault Lake. My driver, the first one that joined us was Betty, she’s from Muskoday. Then we picked up Charlene in Regina. And then when we came this way to Carry the Kettle, our elder joined us.
Yesterday a new guy with a red vehicle joined us halfway here. He was heading to Yorkton and he saw us and turned around and came with us. So along the way they’re starting to join. But you know what still surprises me—and it’s such a good surprise—that as soon as I started walking people were stopping and walking with us. As soon as I left PA, they were giving us water, food, whatever we needed. Because all I came with was my backpack and my tent and my boyfriend was following behind me, but once we got to Regina, he thought “You have a good crowd, you’ve got good support, I can leave you here and go back to work now.” Because he wasn’t going to leave me alone on the highway.
Every First Nations community we’ve passed from PA, they all come out and show their support and they walk with us to a certain point. And then the next reserve does that, and then wherever we end up that evening is where they pull us in and say “You can come stay at our Rec Centre or you can have this cabin here for the night.”
Along the way we’ve had a lot of support, tremendous. The elders come out and they’re the ones that always tell us the Creator tells us that you are coming. They pull us into the elder circle and they talk to us, mentor us and tell us “We knew you were coming.” And they’re able to open up. It’s shocking. A lot of their kids say it’s shocking to hear that. My mom never talks about things like that. My dad never says things like that. You’re doing something.
So seeing you is encouraging them to open up?
Yes. And with that, little by little I get strength to share more and more of my story.
It’s not always the same story. There are different things that happened throughout the years and it was horrible. For years I had kept it down inside and didn’t think about and I didn’t think it affected me, but now that I think about it, it affected my life tremendously by even not talking about it, not letting my kids know what happened.
I thought not talking about it, it’s going to go away. That it won’t bother me and that wasn’t the case. Over the years I’d have these anger bursts. I’d talk to my sister, she’s the only one I could talk to. We’d go for rides and I’d tell her a little bit, a little bit each time. I’d always say “how do I get rid of this, how can I let this go?” And I couldn’t over the years and that took me downhill for a while in my life where I was stuck in alcoholism for a couple years that I couldn’t get out of, depression, anxiety. I still continue to have anxiety, I wake up in a panic.
I thought this is what I need to do. I have to start letting go and opening up. I find it’s getting easier and easier for me to start talking. It still angers me. I ask myself why. They took my statement and RCMP were involved but they never charged anyone. And 10 years later after I left the res they came back to me and did the same investigation and they still never did anything.
Today, too, I still ask why was nobody charged? You guys obviously knew what was going on, so why wasn’t anyone charged? How come there isn’t a list of those abusers out there? Why do they get to live happy and free without consequence for what they did to our people?
I want our people to start healing together and that’s what I see is that they’re starting to open up. Hopefully we get answers by the time we get there. I just want to know. I want to Minister Bennett too about childcare policies that haven’t changed over the years. Still those same provincial policies come onto our reserves and we have to follow their policies to a tee, otherwise they don’t get the funding. Because they have to have their reports and proposals written a certain way. Parents have to do certain things even though it’s not part of their culture or religion, they have to do those programs, and elders, if we use elders it’s out of our own pockets. They don’t do honorariums or anything. So it’s the funding that needs to change where we’re allowed to be able control our own programs, our own and make our own child family programs to fit the culture of that community, because every community is different in the way they do things, the way they talk to the youth, the way parents are taught to be parents.
We need to get that back because today’s parents really don’t know how to be parents because their parents didn’t know how to be parents. It was hard for me. When I first had my kid, it was hard for me to show love, compassion and caring because I never had that. I was in the residential school from four years old until I was 15 and I never had that connection with anybody, like my parents. It wasn’t until 10 years ago I started having a relationship with my foster mom. Being so angry and feeling misplaced all those years, I wasn’t able to trust her. I always blamed her. Why did you send me? Why did you let me go?
But then I understood, because they’re part of that inter-generational effect. She may have not gone to residential school, my foster dad did, my dad did, my mom did, my late mom and all of them. From my dad, she learnt what the residential school was. And then I learnt because she didn’t know what was going on, that it wasn’t her fault that I ended up there. It wasn’t her fault, it was just a whole system, the way it was run, the way they worked. Because at that time if you were in foster care or if your parents died then they would automatically put you in the residence. Sign you up and put you in the residence and you were a ward of the state.
As you go through the different communities are you hearing other people open up and tell you their stories?
Yes. They are. They are and their kids sit around and listen and they’re shocked.
Yesterday, one of the community members, when we stopped in Ochapowace, one of the community members came to us the next day and talked to us and said “It’s a good thing you came here. It opened up our elders. Those stories, they didn’t share any of those stories before when we were talking about residential schools.” They’re healing, they’re starting their healing, but none of them really talked about anything that happened to them and that was the first time they got to hear their elders talk about it and open up and let out their emotions about what happened to them in the residential schools.
I was hopeful. It gave me hope, it gave me strength that I’m going the right way, I’m doing the right thing.
So now as I go, before I even leave this town, already people in Virden, the next town over, they’re waiting. When do you think you’re going to be here? What time do you think you’ll arrive? I don’t know, it depends on our walkers. It all depends how the weather and if it starts thundering and lightening then we’ll stop but if it’s just raining then we’ll keep going. But they’re all waiting for us.
Are you surprised by how much support there is? Did you expect that people would be welcoming you along?
I was actually very shocked and it gives me hope that our people are wanting to learn. The youth that are here with us, they want to learn, they want to walk for their parents, they want to walk for their grandparents, they want to walk against the foster care system.
There are different needs here. There are a few of us that have been to residential schools, a couple that were in the foster care system, and then there’s our elder who was in a residential school, and then we have a veteran here from the army that is supporting us and was against residential schools.
So we have different representations, what they’re walking for, but it’s all about healing, it’s all about coming together, learning to open up, learning to talk, learning to be strong, learning not to be scared to tell your story.
Whether you were in a residential school, whether you were in foster care, whether you were in the day school or boarding school. Day school and residential school were the same, they were run by the same people, the churches and Indian affairs.
So what’s your best hope for what your walk is going to accomplish? Ten years from now, when you look back on it, what do you want to tell people about this walk? What do you hope comes from this?
I just hope that they continue be open and honest, and let the Canadian non-First Nations know what really happened in the residential schools and start your healing. Once you start talking, you’ll be healing. So I’m hoping our people by that time in 10 years are past that healing stage and their children and the next generation too.
Because a lot of times, our people, they are proud people, they are humble people, so they don’t speak out openly. But I’m hoping with this they start speaking out and speaking up for themselves, speaking up for their communities, speaking up for their grandchildren because this is what it’s really about. It’s about the future of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, because if we’re stuck in this same situation now where they’re not talking, that’s still going to create depression, that’s going to create anxiety, that’s going to cause alcohol abuse, homelessness, drug abuse. All those social issues we have in our communities is due to that inter-generational trauma they suffered in residential schools.
A lot of times when you go to therapy they say talk about it, it’s good for you. I noticed from the time I was a kid when I remember being around my grandparents there was a lot of laughter. But now, all families are disconnected. I want to bring those connections back and healing oneself is going to bring those connections back and the elders will be involved again. Because nowadays, they’re not even looking to the elders anymore, even checking them. So I’m hoping this brings them back to that kinship. Rebuild those connections with their families, rebuild our communities.
Once we rebuild our families, we can rebuild our communities and make them stronger. I’m hoping all our social issues will start being taken care of and looked at. It doesn’t help anything that our funding gets cut too, our mental health got cut, social programming got cut on our reserves. Without that, how are we supposed to get our youth and elders into counselling, or get more elders to come in to help.
What’s the main message you want to get across to the leaders in Ottawa when you get there?
Just the policies, the childcare policies need to be changed for our future generations. We need to have a clear understanding and respect for our First Nations people. Don’t push us aside when it gets too tough to answer our questions, don’t ignore us and let it sit there until it’s forgotten, deal with it right now, listen to the people in the communities, not the mental health workers on what they need. The people in the community, our elders, our youth. Sit down with each community, talk to them. Talk to them and ask them what they need. And talk to the elders, they’re the best ones who know, because they’re the ones who advise us and they’re the ones who will know what is best for our community.
The provincial government said they’re willing to put $2 million into helping research some of the residential school sites. Do you think that’s a step in the right direction? Are you happy to see that or do you think they need to do a lot more?
It is, it is, I am happy to see that, that it’s moving fast. Since I started my walk, everything’s been moving fast, and even the university scientists and the First Nations people working with them came and found us on the highway to let us know to just keep walking and praying. Because that’s what we do, we walk and pray and ask the Creator to bring all our lost loved ones to be found, that’s what we pray for. We pray for our elders to start healing.
It surprised us that they came and found us on the highway and told us “Yes, what you’re doing is good. It’s bringing it to attention. Everything is moving fast and there are more kids out there, we just can’t say where and how many right now until we have a precise number.” We are finding more.
But then we have to wait until we have all the grounds covered and then there’s so many schools that they have to go to before they can put a number to all these babies that have been found.
How long is it going to take you to get to Ottawa?
I’m thinking until mid-August. Because there’s people waiting for us to walk for us and we do a relay style so it’s faster. We’ll go two or three kilometers and then the next one walks. That goes faster, because before when we started with the three of us, we were tired because we were doing six miles, 10 miles. So now that we have more people it’s easier on our legs and bodies.
And it’s easier on the mind because we all have that support together. We have that support for each other. A lot of times during our walk we get emotional because of all the things we pray about and let go along the road. So far it’s been a good experience that we are supporting each other. And we do see that we are starting to heal slowly in our own ways.
How do you think this is going to change you? How do you think you’re going to be different at the end of this?
I think it just makes me stronger. It will make me stronger and more vocal. I noticed that I’ve gotten louder because I’m not a person to speak publicly. With people talking to me it helps me get it out, and I let them know this is what I’m doing this for. I’m doing this for healing and hoping that policies will change that.
And I know it’s going to just make me stronger and make me speak out more for our people.