'My heart is with the children': Cross-country walk honours residential school victims
Jasmine Lavallee is walking across Western Canada in honour of the 215 bodies found in an unmarked grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
"I tried to ignore it - as ignorant as that sounds - but I knew that 215 would be the number to break my heart. So the more I tried to ignore it, the more I saw it," said the 38-year-old. "It broke my heart, I found myself crying when I was like alone. When I had personal time, I was weeping for these children that I didn't even know. So I knew it affected me hard."
On her back for the entire walk is a pack filled with children’s moccasins, wrapped in an orange sheet and adorned with ribbons. People along the route have been offering them to her to carry to Kamloops.
"They are very well respected and honoured. We treat them like children, we treat them like a baby on board with us. They never leave our side," explained Lavallee. "We're always tending to them, we talk to them, when I say tending to them I mean like when we smudge, the moccasins are smudged with us every day."
Lavallee began her walk at the site of the former Assiniboine Residential School in Winnipeg and says she took the millionth step of her journey in Saskatchewan. She had planned to arrive in Kamloops on Oct 16, but on Tuesday, as she hit the road outside Bassano, Alta., she now says it will be another month before she completes her journey
"It's been nothing but positive support and just messages from everybody across Canada telling us to keep going."
Lavallee was born with dislocated hips and her mother was told she would likely be in a wheelchair for life. Having overcome that early physical setback is one reason Lavallee felt walking to remember the children buried in Kamloops was an important task to undertake
"I surprised a lot of people I guess in my early years," said Lavallee. "I learned to walk before I crawled and now here I am going to be going across the country from Winnipeg through to Kamloops."
Lavallee, along with her small group of supporters, say they are walking on behalf of all survivors of abuse.
She hopes the walk will shine a light on the impacts of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
"I want to keep that awareness going, you know, let people know what happened, talk about it, chat about it, don't let it die out. So we can have a better tomorrow for the children because that's where it's gonna start, with the little ones," said Lavallee. "If we are honest with them and we treat them with respect you'll see a different tomorrow. I truly believe that my heart is with the children."
For the latest on Lavallee's walk, visit the 215+ I Wanna Come Home Facebook page