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Girl's dedication an inspiration to all
It's an amazing thing when a young girl of 10 can take a personal tragedy, turn it around, and change it into something that benefits others. It's even more amazing when six years later, that same young girl is still dedicating herself to that very same cause.
That is the case with Iris Bonaise of Little Pine First Nation. When Iris was only 7, she lost her brother Denis to cancer. Three years later, in the fall of 1997, she decided to walk from her home community to Saskatoon to raise money for cancer research, and raise awareness about cancer within First Nations communities.
That walk was a great success on both counts. It raised $12,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation, and Iris drew crowds all along the route of her 180 km walk.
"Along the route last time I went it was just amazing," Iris said, recalling her experience in 1997. "People were stopping and they were giving me hugs and they were offering their money. They were offering their prayers, they were offering everything they had. They just opened their hearts completely."
She was hoping the response would be similar when she again made the trek between Little Pine and Saskatoon, this time taking a longer route that would take her through Delmas, along Highway 16 through North Battleford, and on into Saskatoon. Iris began her journey of over 200 km on Monday, Sept. 8, and planned to arrive in Saskatoon by that Saturday, just in time to take part in Saskatoon's Terry Fox Run on Sunday, Sept. 14. She was to be joined for the final entry into Saskatoon by her cousin, who lost her leg to the same bone cancer as Terry Fox.
Iris said she decided to do another walk now because she's graduating from Chief Little Pine school this year, and her course load allows her to take time off for the journey without missing much school work.
"It's just been a long time, and they need money every year," she said. "It just seemed like the perfect time."
During the six years that have passed since Iris completed her first walk, she has continued her efforts to raise awareness about cancer among First Nations people.
"Where I'm doing presentations, it's usually out here in the middle of nowhere, where hardly anybody ever goes and hardly anything is shared out here. So when I do speak, there are a lot of people coming in to one of these places where I'm speaking, knowing almost nothing about cancer. And then they leave and they're ready to do something to help," she said.
Iris' family knows the effects of cancer first hand, her father Patrick explained.
"My brother-her uncle-and my uncle ... were buried two days apart. And since then we've had other family members that are affected by that disease. And I always try to keep myself off the record, because I myself have been affected by that disease. So it's close to home, and she's trying to do something about it. And she's determined that there should be something done about it, and trying to get the First Nations people to do their best to try and help out the best way they can, anyway they can" he said.
"She's been doing presentations in schools and other places. She's been phoning around. She went to the camp Circle of Friends, where these kids gather once a year. She went there and saw for herself the need that we need to understand there's more to it than just being just a hospital and doctors and nurses. There's a whole slough of things that are involved in making a patient feel like a human being. So she's been totally given her 110 per cent concentration around this area. And in turn, you can just almost feel the strength that she's building and building constantly, that there has to be something done, and hopefully some day there will be a cure."
Although she hasn't decided quite what she wants to do when she graduates from high school, Iris plans to just continue doing what she's been doing until she makes that decision.
"I've been giving speeches and raising awareness since I was about 9, 10 years old. nd I think I will be doing that for another couple of years while I decide if I want to go to university or not. And from there I guess I'll just see."
In the long term, Iris would like to establish a foundation aimed at supporting children with cancer and their families.
"I wanted to start something for my brother, in memory of my brother, because my brother was a very caring person, and I really, really wanted his name to live on forever through the foundation. And I can work there, and my children, so it'll always be there," she said.
"The focus would be more of helping the families. Because cancer research, it has a lot of help where it is. But the point is that some of these children that are in the hospital, often they don't even have their family there because the family either can't afford to go there or there's a misunderstanding, or whatever. I just wanted to be there, because I've seen children in there by themselves, and I've seen them cry. It would just make me feel so much better that when they go to bed tonight, they know that their mom's going to be there to greet them the next morning. I mean, every child needs to be guaranteed that reassurance."
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