TORONTO -- A father and son embarked on a 1,000-kilometre journey, on foot, retracing the path their ancestors took when they escaped the residential school system.
Alan Harrington and 13-year-old Nation Harrington are on a mission to promote accountability of the Catholic Church.
Each step, from Kanehsatake, a settlement in southwestern Quebec, to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is being taken in memory of the children who went to residential schools, they say.
“The first day was approximately 28 to 30 kilometres,” Alan told CTV National News.
The pair walk up to eight hours per day while hauling 70 pounds of gear. People in the towns they walk through have taken notice, saying “hello” and giving them water. One hotel even put them up for a night.
Their final destination is what was once the Shingwauk Indian Residential School. They expect to reach the site by Sept. 28
“My biological father and mother were part of [the residential school system],” Alan said. “When they came back from that, they weren’t able to take care of us kids.”
He and his siblings were taken from their home and adopted out as part of the ‘60s Scoop, a period during which an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families between the 1950s and the 1980s, given new names and placed with non-Indigenous families, some of them outside Canada.
As a result, Alan says he struggled with identity issues, something he doesn’t want his son to experience.
“With my son here, he’s able to, you know, break that cycle,” he said. “This whole journey is about getting there, but also for him and I to connect together as father and son.”
Nation has brought along his lacrosse stick and a flag to post at the former residential school to mark their journey. He says the walk has been a learning experience for him.
“It’s teaching me what my great-great-grandfather felt when he was walking back,” he told CTV National News.
A prominent Canadian arm of the Catholic Church apologized for the first time on Friday for the horrors that occurred in residential schools it ran for the federal government for more than a century.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement acknowledging what it described as "grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community" at the schools, as well as the residential school system's "suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality."
While individual priests and bishops have apologized for the church's role in running the schools, there had never been an official apology from the Canadian Catholic hierarchy until Friday. The Vatican has also never formally apologized, despite calls to do so.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Ryan Flanagan
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