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‘Reconciliation is not a passive role’: Saskatoon student snowshoes for residential school survivors

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Saskatoon student snowshoes for residential school survivors
WATCH: A Saskatoon university student who rode his bike to every federally recognized residential school site in Saskatchewan is taking on a new challenge — snowshoeing to a residential school site that has not yet been recognized by Ottawa or the province – Dec 17, 2021

A 21-year-old Saskatoon man is embarking on a harrowing journey this week, travelling on foot to the site of the Timber Bay Children’s Home near Montreal Lake, Sask.

B’yauling Toni is no stranger to adventure. This summer, he cycled to 20 of Saskatchewan’s federally recognized residential school sites in one month to raise awareness.

On Wednesday, Toni finished his last final exam. On Saturday, the university student is embarking on a trip that he says won’t be for the faint of heart.

“I’ll be snowshoeing the whole way with lots of snow, very cold nights,” he explained. “I’ve found myself a good sleeping bag.”

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Just like for his trip in the summer, he’ll be sharing his adventures along the way and raising awareness about the Timber Bay Children’s Home.

Despite operating in much the same way as other residential schools from 1952 to 1994, the facility has not received recognition as a residential school. Many groups have sought to change that.

In 2017, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled against the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, arguing that the school wasn’t directly run by the federal government.

“Survivors from that location aren’t compensated,” Toni said. “They don’t have the support that you see at other sites because of this technicality, and they’re just left off the list.”

Now, Toni is looking to change that.

“When I found out that there were these sites, I knew I had to do something,” he said. “I’m heading back there to show that recognition where it’s long overdue.”

The trip could take Toni two weeks to complete in extreme, cold weather conditions.

Along the way, he’ll be getting help documenting the trip on social media from founder of The Ballantyne Project, Dwight Ballantyne.

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“He’s doing all the hard work of course,” Ballantyne laughed. “And I’m just over here amplifying his journey and what he’s going to be doing because it’s a personal story for me — (Montreal Lake) is where I’m from.”

Dwight Ballantyne’s life work is dedicated to educating students about residential schools and reserves from his own experiences.

He says to see a non-Indigenous person take a journey like this on behalf of survivors is deeply moving.

“I hope that survivors see this and know that we’re trying our best to make this happen because they deserve an apology,” Ballantyne said. “This should be recognized.”

Ballantyne and Toni are asking people to sign a petition calling for the Timber Bay Children’s Home to receive residential school status, and its survivors to receive compensation and support.

Toni says he hopes that others see his journey and find inspiration.

“Reconciliation is not a passive role,” Toni said. “Especially for non-Indigenous people. You have to go out and seek it, it’s not going to find you.”

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