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‘There’s many of us that did suffer’: Residential school survivor walks from Prince Albert to Ottawa

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WATCH: As the impact of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops is felt across Canada, one Saskatchewan woman is taking steps to raise awareness – Jun 6, 2021

“There’s many of us that did suffer, and still continue to suffer,” Patricia Ballantyne said as she strode the grounds of the former Prince Albert Indian Residential school.

For nearly ten years, the residential school was home for the now 47-year-old, who was taken from her home in Deschambault Lake when she was just four years old.

Read more: Young Indigenous artists create Saskatoon memorial for residential school victims

“You start off in the little one, they put the four and five-year-olds in there,” she said as she points to different lodges that still stand at the site. “Then they move them up, that’s cottages one, two, three and four,” she said as she pointed to lodges further along. “Then by your teenage years, you’re over here at cottage 14.”

The years of pain, suffering and abuse she endured at the hands of her supervisors at the school make being back very hard on Ballantyne. It’s also why she chose the site to be the staging point for her Walk of Sorrow.

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“I need to start where all of the trauma started,” she said. “Hopefully (I’ll) make it to Ottawa where I can speak with Minister (Miller) and the Prime Minister. I want them to understand how traumatic and terrifying it is for everyone who went to a residential school.”

Read more: Technology uncovered remains at B.C. residential school but secrets still remain beneath the soil

On Saturday, Ballantyne began her Walk of Sorrow, marching from the site of P.A’s residential school to the Parliament Building in Ottawa.

She is walking to raise awareness about life at residential schools, while also wanting to end provincial programs that remove children from their families.

“I wish that they would sit down with our community leaders, and elders,” she said. “I just want them to sit down with the communities instead of giving us policies and regulations that we have to follow to get this money. We need that money for our elders and our cultural programs that we need to get back.”

Ballantyne was spurred to action after hearing of the remains found buried at a former residential school’s grounds in Kamloops, B.C.

“I reverted back to my own child self, as a little kid and what I went through,” she said. “I started thinking about how terrified those poor kids were, not knowing what was going on.”

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Read more: Saskatchewan residential school survivor reflects on tragic legacy: ‘My little heart was just crying’

“(The discovery) triggered a lot of emotions for thousands of people right across this country,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron.

Ballantyne hopes that more people join in on the walk as she makes her way across the country, as it isn’t just walking for herself, but for others around Canada who are also suffering.

“This is my starting, my healing journey,” she said. “I’m hoping everybody comes out and joins me so they can start their healing journey.”

She says that the strength necessary to undertake such a physically demanding journey comes from her family and ancestors, although she is also walking with a heavy heart.

“All our people have suffered, and gone down the wrong road,” she said. “I think of all those people, and I take that sorrow and that hurt, and I use that to just drive me.”

Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419

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