LAKELAND - A handful of locals are keeping in shape as they work to raise funds, create awareness, and work through their own feelings regarding the discovery of 215 unmarked graves near a residential school in Kamloops.
"Once I heard about the mass grave found in Kamloops, I was extremely upset. I felt like I needed to do something about it, even if it was small," says Jana Wilson, a local to St. Paul. "I really wanted to do something personal, as a tribute to those children whose lives were unfairly taken away from them, so I thought, what if I ran one kilometre for every child?"
Originally, Wilson was just going to run the 215 kms over the month of June, but after running the idea by a friend who is a social worker in Cold Lake, Wilson decided to turn the run into a fundraiser, allowing her to give back to the Indigenous community.
While she was going to run the 215 km by herself, she has since received an overwhelmingly positive response from friends and peers that wanted to contribute by running too, and they've been adding their kilometers to Wilson's. As of late last week, she had raised $675 for the Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA).
The organization has a number of programs that benefit the Indigenous community, and offers support to residential school survivors.
"That’s really where I wanted the money to go - supporting the Indigenous community in this time of mourning."
Wilson admits she's never set herself such a lofty running goal. "The idea of 215 km in a month was daunting to say the least, so this is definitely the first I’ve ever done something like this."
The response Wilson has received has been very positive, and a trickle down effect is now taking place. Haley Kwan, a friend of Wilson, decided to take on her own running challenge after hearing about Wilson's cause, while also raising funds for another important cause.
Kwan and her brother Treston Moisey are working together to run an average of eight kilometres a day in June. The siblings live in Mallaig and are raising funds to support an organization that helps feed children across the country - Canadian Feed the Children
"I am so grateful that she felt called to get involved, because the impact that she has helped create is so much more than I would have been able to do on my own," says Wilson.
Kwan and Moisey began their initiative on June 3, and are aiming to run an average of eight kilometres a day, between the two of them. As of last week, the pair had completed 122 km.
"I'm kind of burned out," admits Kwan, noting that she's now running every second day. She and her brother run a similar path along Amyotte Road, just outside of Mallaig, each time they go out. They often get waves and encouragement from community members passing by.
Kwan says she set up a GoFundMe page to collect funds to donate to Canadian Feed the Children, and as of Friday it was sitting at $2,955 - a number Kwan did not expect to achieve. But, the response from the school community in Mallaig specifically has been amazing, she says.
The soon-to-be second year pharmacy student at the University of Alberta says her former teachers at Mallaig School have shown plenty of support, along with some of the students too. The Grade 5/6 class recently organized a lemonade stand, with the intention of raising funds to purchase items for their class. But, the students voted instead to donate their $300 to Kwan's fundraiser.
On Monday, which is National Indigenous Peoples Day, there will also be a run taking place in Mallaig, and Kwan will be collecting more donations.
She explains that she chose to support Canadian Feed the Children because the organization helps support school-aged children in a number of communities, including some First Nations communities in the region, and Birch Narrows, Sask., which is where her dad is.
Kwan says that when she heard about the discovery in Kamloops, she felt hurt, and also found herself grieving. So, she turned to running to help process those feelings.
“I thought it would be a perfect way to run for my own feelings," says Kwan.
In the end, Wilson says she hopes the fundraiser not only gives back to the community, but creates more awareness about the true impact that residential schools had on the Indigenous community, and how many people are still hurting due to the damage residential schools have caused.
"I also hope that it encourages others to be more compassionate towards others and to step put of their comfort zone to try and make a positive change in the world, however small it may be."