Bike tour of residential school sites makes stop in Prince Albert

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald B’Yauling Toni (standing right) receives an Every Child Matters bunnyhug from Penny Constant (standing left) while George Mirasty looks on (standing centre).

B’Yauling Toni has travelled to nearly every federally recognized residential school in Saskatchewan.

On Monday, he crossed the second last stop on his list when he visited Prince Albert.

Toni made a stop at the Allen Bird Memorial Centre, which is on the site of a former residential school in Prince Albert, to greetings from supporters, including representatives from the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC).

The journey has taken him from his home in Saskatoon to 18 former residential school sites before arriving in Prince Albert. That’s more than 2,800 km by bike.

Toni thinks that as a non-Indigenous person and settler he can learn from his journey. His last stop will be in Duck Lake on Tuesday before travelling home.

“It’s on us as non-Indigenous people to really show that recognition of the genocide that happened in Canada and to take the first step in reconciliation. It’s up to us to reach out and to do those things,” Toni said.

Toni was greeted with a ceremony and tour after he arrived from George Mirasty, who attended the residential school, PAGC Associate Health Director Penny Constant, Edith Kadachuk and Gloria LeDoux. Elder Gordon Keewatin did the opening and closing prayers.

The PAGC presented Toni with an orange bunnyhug and tobacco and he presented the PAGC with moccasins that he gives at each stop.

Getting tours of each site has provided Toni with many lessons especially about what happened at each site.

“I am thankful that I am able to come and learn and to continue to learn because I think that awareness is something that is so important,” he said. “It’s hard to open that conversation without Indigenous people. No one wants to talk about it. It’s so important to build that empathy in order to facilitate healing and that is the most important thing—that we move forward and facilitate the healing journey with our Indigenous communities.”

The PAGC only learned on Sunday that Toni would be arriving. They put together a ceremony in short order. Toni was pleased by the reception.

“I’m actually blown away by how welcoming these communities are,” he said. “(They are) very, very generous people and I am very warmed to see all these people to show me so much tremendous support and I am just some stranger.”

Constant said she only just heard about Toni’s arrival after not having her cell phone with her for the weekend. Mirasty texted her about the tour, then the PAGC set something up over Monday meetings and invited the staff over.

“Word gets around pretty quick around here,” Constant explained.

Toni began his tour on Aug. 2. On his first stop, an elder showed him a tipi with the Indigenous journey through colonization. That moment stood out for Toni during his trip.

“He shared with me that journey through residential schools and how it is a circle and how the healing journey has to come around,” Toni explained. “We now need to build and heal and be here for Indigenous people so they can come back.”

Constant hoped that the tour of the site would help Toni to learn even more.

“Just being here, I think, is going to be an eye opener for him as he goes through all of the residential schools,” she said.

She also hopes that Toni can provide influence to other people in his generation.

“I just hope that he is able to influence the younger generation. Even our First Nations younger generations have a lot to learn too and understand,” she said

“It’s very difficult not to have those ugly feelings inside with what has happened. So bringing that peace that reconciliation and awareness to that younger generation.”

With his trip almost completed, Toni said still has much to learn.

“I am getting slowly more tired. I am happy to be able to be here and to learn. I’m excited to make it home and see my family, but at the same time I’m still very interested in the sites that I have left to see,” he explained.