AKWESASNE – Several local residents have undertaken efforts to recognize the 215 children who were found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, BC.
Ian Callan and Rene Bourget are frequent running partners, and Bourget suggested that the pair try to run 21.5 km one day in recognition of the 215 children. Callan upped the challenge to 215 km. Together, Callan and Bourget learned more about Indigenous culture, and how in the Mohawk culture, there is a 10 day mourning period for those who have passed away. Callan and Bourget then pledged to run 21.5 km per day for 10 days, a feat they completed on the morning of June 9.
“It turned out to be a great community response,” Callan said. He explained that as the challenge went on, more members of the community joined in. “It became something of a personal reflection on what happened.”
Callan said that he and Bourget often made a point of running in the community to set an example. Both are employed by the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and Callan connected with the Grade 1 and Kindergarten teachers at Longue Sault Public School.
Those students had previously painted rocks in honour of Remembrance Day, Callan asked if they would be able to paint stones organge, 215 of them, for the children discovered at the residential school in Kamloops.
Soon other members of the community joined in on this challenge. On Wednesday morning, June 9, Callan, Bourget, Troy Thompson, and others, ran across the Seaway International Bridge in Cornwall to Akwesasne to deliver the stones to the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk School. A ceremony was held at the school with staff, and the runners who delivered the stones.
Thompson, an Indigenous man and resident of Akwesasne has been undertaking his own running fundraiser, where he has pledged to run 215 km, and has already raised nearly $3,000 for the Akwesasne Boys and Girls Club based in Hogansburg, NY.
Thompson said that the delivery of the painted stones to the school was an excellent gesture of friendship.
“It was a really nice ceremony that took place and was capped off by this really great gesture of friendship from Ian, Rene, and others,” Thompson said. “I was really touched by that gesture and it meant a lot.”
Bourget said that he too was moved by the ceremony at the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk School and was grateful to learn more about Indigenous culture.
“One thing that I was told was that culturally, the 215 stones represents a casing, the casing is the body and after the 10 days of mourning, the casing is let go, and the spirit goes on to the afterlife,” Bourget said. “I thought that was really powerful.”
“We felt extremely honoured to be invited there and to know that they felt that our gesture was special enough to do this for us,” said Callan.
Thompson said that gestures like these will help build bridges and connections between the Akwesasne community and its neighbours and he asked that everyone do their research into the history of residential schools.
“I think it is important for everyone to do their research into residential schools,” he said. “It is just the tip of the iceberg I’m afraid. I’m a father and have nieces and nephews and I can’t fathom that happening to them.”
To support Thompson’s fundraiser, visit his Facebook page to donate.