Yukoners walking from Whitehorse to Kamloops in honour of residential school children

Jacqueline Shorty and James Henyu decided to walk from Whitehorse to Kamloops B.C. to honour the children who died at residential schools across Canada.

'We will never allow something like children getting lost or not coming home. That will never happen again'

Lorraine Netro, centre left, and Jacqueline Shorty, right, walk down the Klondike Highway in Whitehorse. They plan to be in Kamloops B.C. by August 9. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

A handful of Yukoners have kicked off a 2,100 kilometre walk from Whitehorse to Kamloops, B.C., to honour children who died at residential schools in Canada. 

James Henyu and Jacqueline Shorty came up with the idea — named the Warriors Walk for Healing Nations — about a week ago. 

"My heart is full of hurt after they found the kids. I'm doing this for them so they know we're going to bring the truth out," said Henyu. "I started this honour walk to honour the people that went through this tragedy." 

The walk began Saturday, with a fire and prayer at the former Yukon Hall site in Whitehorse. The building that used to be there served as a residential school for Indigenous children from Yukon and northern B.C.

Jacqueline Shorty, right, said she's thankful for all the support the group has received so far. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

"It's time to bring out the truth about this place and that's why we're here," Henyu said.

"When Jacqueline brought it up to me to have it up here, this is one of the places I thought I would want it to start from. When they told me that it was going to be here it felt right."

Lorraine Netro of the Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation is helping to coordinate the event. Yukon First Nations leaders, politicians, residential and intergenerational survivors joined the team as they began the first leg of their journey. 

Long way to go

The small group hopes to make a stop in Lower Post, B.C. for the demolishing of a residential school building there, and to arrive in Kamloops around August 9th.

There is a long way to go, but Shorty said the toughest part has already been done.

"Given the nature of this project it's taken seven days for us to launch it, so the hardest part of the work is really this, the launching and taking flight," she explained.

James Henyu, centre left, and Jacqueline Shorty, right, with a group of local supporters on Saturday morning. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

They plan to walk along the Alaska Highway to Teslin and Lower Post, take Highway 37 south to Kitwanga and then walk the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) to Kamloops.

"In a way it almost feels like we are that eagle medicine. We are lifting off in a really good way," she said, adding that the support they've received has been "elating."

"I want to give a very humble thank you and gunalchéesh to all," she said.

"The intention of this walk is to have community healing, to acknowledge the 215 children and the growing numbers across Canada, and to make a concentrated agreement between ourselves that we will never allow something like children being lost or not coming home. That will never happen again."

The walk began with a fire and prayer at the former site of Yukon Hall in Whitehorse, which used to be a residential school. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

The NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.

In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason. 

In Yukon, mental health services are available to those in both Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services. Yukoners can schedule Rapid Access Counselling supports in Whitehorse and all MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.