A Saskatoon university student who has travelled thousands of kilometres to visit every officially recognized residential school in Saskatchewan wants to add one more to the list.
And he’s now snowshoeing hundreds of kilometres, on his own, to draw attention to that goal.
Saskatoon’s B’yauling Toni, 21, rode his bike 3,000 kilometres to visit the schools earlier this year, as a way of paying tribute to the Indigenous children who were forced to attend the schools. Many suffered horrific abuse. The deaths of thousands of students have been documented.
The only school in Saskatchewan Toni hasn’t gone to is the one in Timber Bay, more than 250 kilometres north of Saskatoon — because it is not on the official list of residential schools.
Toni wants that to change.
“There’s places out there, residential schools, the sites that still aren’t recognized … and there’s no compensation for survivors,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement — a comprehensive class-action settlement that involved survivors, the federal government and churches that ran the schools — officially recognized 139 residential schools across Canada.
However, the agreement excluded schools that operated without federal support, such as those run solely by religious orders or provincial governments. That meant Timber Bay was left off the list in 2009.
Survivors have long fought to have that changed.
In 2017, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that while Timber Bay housed students who attended schools elsewhere, it wasn’t directly government-run and was not eligible for residential school status.
However, the shocking discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites this year — including former schools in Kamloops, B.C., and at the Marieval school site on Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan — prompted calls to reexamine the school’s status.
Toni is now planning to snowshoe more than 260 kilometres solo, from Saskatoon to Timber Bay, to draw attention to those calls.
Toni, who is not Indigenous, believes it is his responsibility to work toward reconciliation with Indigenous people.
His long trek started Friday, and he expects to complete the trip in about two weeks.
Dwight Ballantyne of Montreal Lake Cree Nation, near Timber Bay, says this cause is dear to many members of his community.
He founded The Ballantyne Project — a youth-led Indigenous organization that works to bring awareness to the challenges faced by people in remote Indigenous communities. He and his team will be supporting Toni’s efforts remotely.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of people who are relieved that this happened, because the government doesn’t even want to look at this case,” Ballantyne said.
“This is why I’m supporting him and what he needs to do.… It’s very important.”
Ballantyne’s family and community members are among the survivors from Timber Bay.
An online petition has been created on the website Révolutionnaire calling on the government of Saskatchewan to recognize the Timber Bay facility as a provincially run residential school.