Al Harrington and Jessica-Lee Dinovitzer, along with Al’s 13-year-old son, Nation, are walking from Kanehsatake to Sault Ste. Marie. They’re making a pilgrimage to the former site of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, which was closed in 1970 and turned into the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. They passed through Vankleek Hill September 10 on their way to Rockland and Orléans.
Harrington was born in 1976 and was part of the 60s Scoop, a period when Canadian legal policy allowed child welfare authorities to take Indigenous children away from their families for adoption by white families. The Scoop began in the 1950s and continued into the 1980s.
“It’s to honour the children that ran away and made it back, and to honour those that never did,” Harrington said, during a phone interview. “My son’s great-grandfather and uncle, they were boys who ran away and made it back. If they hadn’t, he might not exist today. Every little step that we take towards Sault Ste. Marie, that’s what my mind is on, and I’m sharing that with my boy while he’s taking this journey with me.”
The group has walked more than 150 kilometres from Kanehsatake to Ottawa. Their goal of Sault Ste. Marie is still almost 800 kilometres away, and the trip has been hard on them. Aches and pains plague their feet, and their progress has been slow.
“My son is 13 years old, he’s still a teenager, and 20 kilometres is about how far he can go before he starts to get tired,” Harrington said. “We really want to continue, but we don’t want to have these injuries for the rest of our lives. Once we touch Parliament with our wagons, we reach one of our halfway goals, and then we can decide after that. It all depends on tomorrow night.”
Even if they must stop, the experience so far has been encouraging for them all.
“We’ve had people stop on the highway and offer food and water, see If we’re okay,” Harrington said. “In the communities, people have run out to see what we’re doing and what’s been happening. Less than a handful of idiots, and everyone else has been learning. One of our major stops was in Alfred at the reform school, and a lot of the residents there didn’t even know about the history of the place. It’s all been about getting the history out.”
The group is collecting donations along the way, in person and online, to help pay expenses for the trip and to construct a monument called ‘Every Child Matters’ once they reach Sault Ste. Marie. Any leftover funds will be donated to groups in support of residential school survivors, chosen by Harrington and his son Nation after the trip is completed. Donations can be made through Harrington’s Facebook, GoFundMe, or email transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org.