Payeur to walk for school awareness

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

A local man is tying up his running shoes and taking to the streets to help raise awareness for and support of those affected by the Canadian Residential School system.

Educator Joey Payeur has organized and planned a personal campaign he’s calling “50 for the Thousands” that will see him walk 50km along the Fort Frances riverfront over two consecutive Sundays, starting July 25, in order to bring more awareness to the ongoing impacts of residential schools, particularly in light of the unearthing of hundreds of graves across the country that are related to the schools. The number 50 holds relevance as Payeur very recently turned 50. He’ll also be sharing 50 daily posts on his Facebook page to keep the momentum going, each with a photo Payeur said will be pulled from his personal archives.

Local educator Joey Payeur was moved by the Canada Day Walk for the Children, and has decided to launch a walk of his own, to come to terms with the atrocities of Residential Schools, and hopefully inspire donations to causes which support survivors. – Ken Kellar photo

Payeur said he was moved when he participated in the walk that was organized on Canada Day, taking part along with hundreds of other supporters. He shared that he also spent some time along the route with a residential school survivor who told him the story of her experiences.

“Basically, she was treated worse than we would treat most animals,” he said.

“That story staggered me. It resonated with me and really made me think about the injustices Indigenous people have faced in this country for so long and how we cannot, as non-Indigenous people, take the stance of ‘well, that was then, it wasn’t our fault, it’s time to move on.’ Those arguments don’t work and cannot be allowed to stand anymore. We have to come together with Indigenous people to help right the wrongs that have happened to them as best we can. We have to investigate every single residential school site, day-school site, any other place where children were taken away from their families and shipped to, confined to. We need to find every single unmarked grave and bring every single one of these children and adults home.”

Part of Payeur’s drive to do his 50 for the Thousands campaign is the other projects he’s seen people across the country undertake for similar reasons, like Landyn Toney, a 12-year-old in Nova Scotia who walked 200km over six days to raise awareness about the damaging impact of residential schools. Payeur also shared that he recently discovered his grandchildren are part Métis, which encouraged him to do his walk on their behalf, as well as residential school survivors in general.

“On July 25 I will walk 25km, and then I will give myself a week off and then I will come back the following Sunday (August 5) and walk the other 25 to hit 50. I thought it stretches it out a bit more and gives it some more time for exposure,” he said.

Payeur is no stranger to walking for important causes. In the summer of 2020 he organized a fundraiser campaign called “Step Forward” where he had set fundraising goals for three different months to benefit three different charities. This walk is less about hitting those kind of financial goals, though he will still be providing links to several different charities and organizations for people to contribute to if they so choose. Rather, Payeur said his point this year is less about setting a target and more about helping to spread awareness of just how impactful these residential school recoveries have been to the Indigenous population.

“At the end of the day I’m not looking to talk about how much money I raised, which was my idea last year just to give myself something to shoot for,” Payeur said.

“I think this time around, especially as this is a more sensitive thing, the residential school situation affects everyone, so setting a goal is not the point. The point is; get the awareness out there that these are people who need our support, need our help more than ever right now. Now the true reality of what happened to their people over decades and decades is coming to light for us non-Indigenous people. They’ve known about it forever, they knew it happened but no one listened or cared.”

Payeur will be sharing a list of six different charitable organizations that he discovered through a Maclean’s article, each of which support Indigenous communities across the country in different ways. Included in those charities are the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society, the Legacy of Hope Foundation, the Orange Shirt Society, True North Aid, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Reconciliation Canada. Payeur will be providing a direct link to each of the charities with every Facebook post he makes as part of his campaign, and he said he hopes it will encourage people to make a donation to the organization who’s work resonates with them.

While the first part of Payeur’s 50km walk isn’t planned until Sunday, July 25, he began posting his series of 50 Facebook posts this past Tuesday to coincide with his 50th birthday, so anyone who wants to follow along with his journey can go to his personal Facebook page. Links to the charities he is encouraging people to check out are also included in his posts.