By: John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
Richelle Dubois was inspired to begin a journey after the bodies of 215 indigenous children were discovered in Kamloops, BC at the site of a former residential school.
Alongside her family, they decided they would walk from Regina children’s residential school on Pinkie Road to Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Keeping primarily to Trans-Canada Highway, Dubois and her family passed through Strathmore on July 23, and as of Sunday had reached Calgary. She said the healing journey has been an incredible challenge thus far.
“We went through heat waves, we went through tornado warnings, all kinds of smoke, so it just depends on the weather how [far] we can go [per] day,” she said. “We go anywhere from 20 to 40 clicks a day. On a good day we’ve done 55 [km], on a bad day we’ve done maybe 18 [km].”
She explained that while on the road, there are consistently a “rollercoaster” of emotions that they will feel on any given day.
Adding to the difficulty of simply completing the nearly 1,400 km trek, Dubois and her family have been met with mixed reactions while on the road.
“We’ve experienced close calls on the highway with my son and semi’s blowing out tires right around us,” she said. “We’ve had some cars weave towards us and not showing their support; my husband has been called racial slurs on the highway by some campers.”
For the most part, she adds, feedback has been positive and some even decided to donate to their cause.
Donations accrued on the road are being used to help cover the family’s costs of completing the healing journey and anything extra at the end of the walk will be used to erect benches and picnic tables in Kamloops.
The primary goal however, Dubois explained, is to raise awareness and help educate the public of the horrors experienced by those who attended residential schools.
“The stories my grandparents told were all true. Those are just the ones that we are finding,” she said.
“There’s so much more that we’ll never know, but the stories are true … it is not as far back as people like to think it is.”
The last residential school to close its doors in Canada, located in Saskatchewan, was shut down in 1996.
Dubois and her family are also handing out pamphlets as they go which feature information on residential schools and how to access mental health and trauma resources.
“As a parent, hearing [about] all these children, I can relate to … not knowing what’s happened to your child, or your child passing away,” she said. “It’s not something you can just get over.”
(Photo of Richelle Dubois, left. Courtesy of Facebook.)