Cornwall educators run 215 km to remember 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school

What started as a one-day run of 21.5 kilometres, grew into a 10-day run covering 215 kilometres around Cornwall, to remember the 215 Indigenous children found buried at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

When Ian Callan updated his profile picture on Facebook with the "Every Child Matters" frame, friend Rene Bourget reached out.

"We normally run each morning or very close to every morning, so I said, why don't we run 21.5 kilometres on the Monday?' said Bourget.

"Knowing Ian the way he is, within seconds or minutes, he had indicated that maybe we should do 215 kilometres in that week!" Bourget added.

"He knows the way I roll," said Callan. "I take things and I make them a little bigger. So it ended up being a 10-day dedication in honor of the 215 lost children."

Callan said hearing the news out of British Columbia has caused him to go through several stages of grief.

"You listen to the story as an educator and then you realize that's where you got to act," said Callan.

Over the course of the 10 days, Callan and Bourget were able to run with some of their Indigenous friends of Abenaki, Metis and Mohawk background.

"They opened up and they shared things, you know, not just their own, but the generations," said Callan. "They've heard stories and they shared that with us. And those are not the conversations we're usually having when we run with them."

"A lot of self-reflection during these runs," added Bourget. "These 10 days, the reflection was so much more powerful, hearing some stories and then also, you know, with social media, when people start to grab on to what you're trying to do and just the feedback from our community."

"It was eye-opening and they shared what they were going through," said Callan. "And I, it's been just trying to re-evaluate or reassess what it is to be a Canadian, It's hard. As a Canadian, to just what does it mean to be Canadian? That's what we're learning here."

Hearing of the run, Grade 5 student Mackenzie Lauzon of Viscount Alexander Public School in Cornwall decided to run from her home to Long Sault and Back on June 5 with her father.

"I have a lot of friends from Akwesasne and if that was happening right now and they would be going through that, that would just break my heart," Lauzon said. "I can't imagine what their families were like when those kids had to go there, so I just did it for them."

Her mother Courtney, proud of her daughter, unsure if she could run the entire distance of approximately 22 kilometres.

"They surprised me and they pulled through and they persevered." said Courtney Lauzon.

"I think the fact that Mackenzie has Indigenous friends, some of her best friends are from our reserve here in Akwesasne, I think the thought of, if that was happening today, that would have been some of those close friends and some of those close teammates having to endure the atrocities of what happened in the residential school system, I think that definitely pushed them to keep going."

It also started the conversation about the country's history at home.

"We've definitely had conversations about it. Her teachers...they've definitely had the opportunity to discuss it as a class and to discuss the impact that it had," Courtney said. "Talking about how we can continue to make a difference and honour those who never made it home."

"Whenever I kept thinking about some of my best friends and my teammates, that made me just want to do it even more," added Mackenzie.

"Mackenzie is going out and she's doing what she can," said Callan. "I mean we can all contribute and we can all do something in the act of reconciliation somehow."

The running group finished their 10-day run on Wednesday with a private ceremony at Akwesasne Mohawk School across the river, delivering 215 orange painted rocks representing each one of the children.

"One of the things with the rocks represents is for them it could be a casing, so the body," said Bourget. "So as part of their ceremony, after the ten days, that body happens to get released to Mother Earth."

"It was very emotional and they got it," added Callan. "They understood what we were trying to say with the stones and it was really touching. So it was a way to connect our communities."

"I think this is very important," added Rachelle Doth, an early childhood educator who ran with Bourget and Callan through the week. "My heart goes out to all of the kids and all the families that this affected. And being a mom and being an educator, it really hit close to home."

"As an educator, I think we need to put out awareness of this situation and everything that's happened," Doth added. "We're the ones who need to teach children about the past, about the future."