Walking for families suffering from loss

Pernell Ballantyne, centre, leads a walk for families suffering from loss on Sunday, January 27, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

In January 2015, Monica Lee Burns went missing.

Pernell Ballantyne, Monica’s brother, walked from Saskatoon to Prince Albert over three days in -40 C weather.

Last year, supported by friend Conrad Burns, Ballantyne revived the walk. This time, they repeated the walk from Saskatoon to Prince Albert, joined by Patricia Crowe, to call for a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls hearing to come to northern Saskatchewan.

Sunday, the pair set out again, supported by about a dozen friends and family members, as well as Prince Albert Police Chief Job Bergen and Deputy Chief Jason Stonechild. The route was shorter this time, just from the P.A. Inn to the Mann Art Gallery, but the cause was no less important.

“We were walking for all of those people struggling with lost family members and loved one,” Burns said after arriving at the Mann Art Gallery Sunday morning.

“It’s important to continue to show support as a community and give the people a chance to share their stories and talk to each other. A lot of the time, they’re isolated or alone dealing with that loss of a family member. They don’t know where to turn. It’s always good to have these places where a lot of people come to show support for each other.”

Sunday’s walk wasn’t specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It was for anyone suffering from loss. Burns was glad to see the leaders of the police force join him on his trek down snow-covered streets.

“I’m super happy the city police showed up … showing their support for everyday persons in need.”

In addition to having the chiefs join in the actual walk, a pair of constables, one in an unmarked vehicle in front, and another in a cruiser to bring up the rear. Bergen spoke about why it was important that he participate in Sunday’s journey.

“We are all impacted by this loss and we all struggle to find the answers when somebody has gone missing,” he said.

‘When you walk side-by-side and listen to their stories and are able to communicate and come up with ideas and be a part of that — it’s absolutely important for the police service to be a part of the community and listen to all of the people impacted by these terrible losses.”

Bergen thanked the constables who helped guide the walk.

“(It’s important) any time we can be a part of it and look at what will make us a better community, a safer community, when we can work together to find the answers. We’re all looking for answers together.”

For Ballantyne, it was important to see all of the support at this walk.

“I’m really appreciative that everybody … came out to walk with us,” he said.

“I’m blessed that my sister came, my wife, my elders, all the people who are here from the community supported us.”

Burns was later found dead on a snowmobile trail. Her killer was convicted of manslaughter.

With three walks done, Ballantyne is planning one last journey to honour his sister.

“Because there are four directions, four seasons — it’s our culture to do it in fours,” he said.

The last walk will be from the train bridge in Prince Albert to Sturgeon Lake, where Monica is laid to rest. When he arrives, Ballantyne is planning to have a feast and a gathering to honour his sister’s spirit

“That will be my final destination, my final journey, to lay my sister down in spirit,” he said.

“But she will never be forgotten.”