B’yauling Toni is pedalling 3,000 kilometres to deliver a pair of children's moccasins to each of the 20 federally recognized residential school sites in Saskatchewan.
Toni set out in the early hours of Monday morning, armed with a small tent and a sleeping bag as he makes the month-long journey unsupported. He doesn't have a funding target, but the trip is meant to encourage donations to the Orange Shirt Society, he said.
"We should all take our own personal (paths) and use them to to reconcile with Indigenous peoples in Canada and to understand what happened," he said.
Toni, who isn't Indigenous, organized the trip with Allison Forsberg shortly after she created a speaker's event called Bring Them Home as an alternative to Canada Day celebrations.
Forsberg, who is Cree, was surprised at how quickly the idea came together. The pair were soon consulting on how to do the project respectfully and met with Chokecherry Studios, which directed them to a grant to support the trip. The organization also facilitated collecting the trip's moccasins, which are made by Saskatoon youth.
When oppressed groups work with those who are more privileged, "it's often seen as the ones who are privileged just coming in and taking the spot. You see a lot (of that) happening for sure," Forsberg said.
However, she sees this project as more about "informing yourself" and Toni as "really trying to learn as a settler."
Forsberg says young people's contributions can often be dismissed, but she sees projects like the trip as an example of their potential.
"We could still work (toward) trying to make our community a better, safer place. And (to also) create understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities," she said.
It's also not Toni's first cross-country trip. In 2019, he returned from an unsupported journey across the world that totalled about 31,000 kilometres.
Toni says this month's journey reflects how he personally could contribute to reconciliation, given his experience as a cyclist.
"Previously, I was taking a personal journey to find myself, to travel and explore. Now, I want to do something that's a little bit more meaningful," he said.
The 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419.
Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix