Residential school survivor on a Walk of Sorrow to Ottawa

WINNIPEG — It was through prayers and tears that residential school survivor Patricia Ballantyne walked along the road heading for Ottawa after hearing of the grim discovery of 751 unmarked graves at a former Saskatchewan residential school.

The Walk of Sorrow started on June 5 at the site of the former Prince Albert Indian Residential School. Ballantyne had been a student at the school from 1978 to 1987.

She started the walk after the remains of 215 First Nations children were found buried at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

Ballantyne said the walk is a way to heal following the discovery.

“Since we started walking, we’ve had such a tremendous amount of welcoming in the communities and our spirits have been renewed,” she said.

Nearly three weeks after her walk started, another horrific discovery was made.

The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan found an estimated 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

“We all cried together,” Ballantyne told CTV News. “The number was shocking, so we cried together that night and prayed, and along the way yesterday we just prayed and walked and kept thinking about our ancestors and how many generations we lost.”

Ballantyne said the discovery gave them a new push to keep walking. Along the way, Ballentyne said there have been opportunities to teach her daughter, niece and nephew, who have all joined her on the walk.

“It is going to be something that they’ll never forget and they are going to be teaching their children,” she said.

“They are learning too what their parents went through, and why the lives were so hard for First Nations people.”

Ballantyne, who was in Winnipeg with supporters on Friday, said she expects to be in Ontario within the week and hopes to reach Ottawa by the end of July.

She said she expects more people to join the Walk of Sorrow as it continues.

A national crisis line for residential school survivors is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-925-4419.

Other resources for survivors of residential schools can be found online.

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