Residential School Survivors Walk journeys from Wahpeton to Duck Lake

Jodi Waditaka Photo Walkers began their journey on the Residential School Survivors Walk on Saturday at the Wahpeton Band Office.

The third annual Residential School Survivors Walk journeyed from Wahpeton to Duck Lake and the former site of St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake.

Organizer and survivor of St. Michael’s, Linda Buffalo, said she started the walk when the unmarked graves were discovered in 2020 in Kamloops, B.C. and later in Cowessess.

“I was sitting outside my place here and I was saying my morning prayer and I thought about them and I started to cry, thinking, what can I do to help?” Buffalo said.

The discovery set her mind to finding a way to help. After contemplating the problem, the word ‘walk’ came to her mind.

“I looked around and closed my eyes again, and I started praying,” Buffalo said. “Walk from where to where? (It) went on and on and on. Finally, I decided, well, I’m gonna walk from Wahpeton to Duck Lake, so I didn’t know how to go about it.”

She received assistance from her niece and her sister to do the first walk three years ago.

“This was our third year and that first year I said, ‘I don’t want any publicity. This is for me. This is my own,’” Buffalo said.

“I had to do it for the children that are lost, the children that never made it home, the children have suffered in the student residential schools all across Turtle Island. I went to the max thinking about all these children, and I said, ‘I don’t want no publicity. I don’t want to see it publicized,’ because the this is sort of a personal journey that I needed to do to help spiritually, especially, traditionally. We went to traditional ways of doing things we didn’t do. The only thing we asked was the RCMP to walk us through town,”

The first year the walk took place on a rainy day and Buffalo appreciated all of the support she received.

“I really felt bad all the walkers that supported me that first year but they were okay with it. The only thing that was really bad was they had blisters on their feet,” Buffalo said.

The second year the RCMP escorted them through town again.

This year, the walk began on Saturday morning at Wahpeton Band Office. On her poster, Buffalo invited all elders, residential school survivors and supporters to participate in the walk

On Saturday, the walk got as far as McDowall before continuing the next morning to Duck Lake. The group arrived in Duck Lake around 5 p.m. on Sunday.

“But yesterday (Sunday) we just kept on walking,” Buffalo said. “My brother the Chief is here he said, ‘we have to walk. No more riding,’” Buffalo said.

The walkers took turns walking and some completed the entire walk. Although the walk being personal, the 15 walkers still made Buffalo happy for the support she received.

“I was satisfied. There must have been about 15 taking turns walking,” Buffalo said.

With other events happening, Buffalo said that she didn’t expect a whole bunch of people.

“I put my poster out and I invited all the bands that went to school to St Michael’s,” she said. “There were a few of them that showed up that went there, maybe one or two, I should say. But they came and they helped and then towards the end there’s a lady that got on her scooter and she rode all the way to Duck Lake to the site.

“It was an emotional walk all three years, and I was grateful,” she added. “I am grateful to all who supported (and) those people who did smudging and carrying staffs and walking.”

She said that for next year’s walk, which will be the final one, she will have shirts made to give away for the walk. Buffalo thanked everyone who donated everything from food to gas for the journey.

Buffalo said that she walked for the survivors as well.

Jodi Waditaka Photo Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne met with walk organizer Linda Buffalo on Saturday near the beginning of the Residential School Survivors Walk.

“A lot of them have a hard time dealing with what happened to them at the school and those are the ones I walk for,” she said. “My heart goes out to all the students because I know each and every one that has a story. You know your own story, and I’ve heard some stories already, and I will not repeat them because it’s not my story.”

Buffalo said that she walks for the survivors because what they are dealing with is hard.

“One day soon, hopefully, they are able to deal with it and get on with life. Next year, we’re going to leave everything over there to start a healing,” she said.

The plans for next year’s walk is to go in reverse from this year and start at Duck Lake and walk to Wahpeton.

“Although we’ve been healing all along, you know, we know for to say goodbye and not look back,” Buffalo said.