Snowshoeing to the forgotten school

Frigid temperatures haven’t stopped B’yauling Toni from starting the 300 km trek to Timber Bay to raise awareness about the former Timber Bay Children’s Home. -- Photo from the B’yauling Toni Facebook page.

Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan

Special to the Herald

On Dec. 18, 2021, B’yauling Toni, in frigid temperatures, left his family in Saskatoon and began a 300 km trek, on snowshoes, to Timber Bay, the home of the former Timber Bay Children’s Home.

He arrived at Timber Bay on Dec. 28 after 10 days on snowshoes after a 10-day trek, some recorded on video on his Facebook, until he dropped his phone in waist-deep snow.

Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB), was there on snowshoes, to meet him coming off Montreal Lake, on his way to Timber Bay.

“It was a 300 km trek, so everything was in his backpack – what he survived in, his sleeping bag and a small knife,” Cook-Searson said. “He didn’t have an axe … he said he got wood every place he stayed.”

One Facebook video shows him waking in his sleeping bag and brushing his teeth, a big smile to greet the day on his face.

After a breakfast hosted by Montreal Lake Cree Nation in the community B’yauling Toni set off across the lake to his final destination. He was met by Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, of the Prince Albert Grand Council; Chief Bobby Cameron, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nation, FSIN; chief’s, Karen Bird, PBCN; Joyce Naytowhow-McLeod, MLCN; and Cook Searson, all who accompanied him to Timber Bay on snowshoes. The hour-and-a half trek included trying to push a stuck vehicle on the road, in snowshoes,” she added.

Many people gathered along the road as B’yauling Toni arrived at Timber Bay, many of them survivors of Timber Bay, he greeted them along the road.

“There was people on the side of the road to greet him. He stopped and talk to them, like he stopped to acknowledge them,” Cook-Searson said.

“We had a really beautiful ceremony … it was really emotional.”

The community provided a community meal, with turkey, ham and all the trimmings in B’yauling Toni’s honour.

“He was really humble, like humble and kind,” Cook-Searson said.

He also brought a pair of infant-sized moccasins to the site, as he had done to other schools in the province the previous summer. He then spent a couple of days in the area with a local trapper and in La Ronge before returning to Saskatoon.

Toni, 21, is a non-Indigenous engineering student at the University of Saskatchewan from Saskatoon. He cycled close to 3,000 kilometres in August 2021 to visit 20 of the former Indian Residential Schools in the province, taking an infant-size pair of moccasins to each school.

When B’yauling Toni made his cycle tour of residential schools in the summer, he was unaware of Timber Bay, but then felt compelled to add Timber Bay to the schools he visited, Cook-Searson said.

Beginning in 2007, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB), has worked to have the Timber Bay Children’s Home included under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).

In 2007, when the IRSSA came into effect, former students began coming to the LLRIB Band office saying Timber Bay was not included in the agreement.

Cook-Searson, thinking is must be an oversight, wrote a letter requesting Timber Bay Children’s Home be included and found, “it turned out to be a lot more complicated.”