A long line of motorcycles descended on the Niagara Regional Native Center on Sunday for the second annual residential school children’s Ride for Justice.
“It’s been a long day. But it’s been an amazing day,” Ride and Haudenosaunee organizer Wanda Griffin said in an interview at the center.
Griffin said the purpose of the hike was “to raise awareness about residential schools.”
The ride saw hundreds of motorcyclists from across the province ride in solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous peoples to offer support and raise funds.
Money raised from the hike will be donated to several organizations that work to help Indigenous people deal with the trauma of residential schools. A portion will go to the Niagara Regional Native Center, which hosted the event and runs a myriad of outreach and support programs for the region’s Indigenous peoples.
Griffin said the trauma inflicted on Indigenous people in residential schools has spanned generations, even if the immediate parents did not attend one of the schools.
“I am an intergenerational survivor. My grandmother attended Mush Hole (also known as Mohawk Institute) in Brantford,” Griffin said.
“They usually say it’s seven generations, so hopefully my kids never have to know what it was like to have that trauma.”
“But I know it thanks to my mother. So, I hope I have broken that chain. It can be very, very difficult to break. It’s like an addiction.”
TRAUMA AND RECOGNITION
The Mohawk Institute was the oldest operating boarding school in Canada. It began operations in 1831 and closed in 1970. The school grounds will soon be the subject of a ground search for the bodies of the children.
For last year’s walk, the institute was the final meeting place. Due to his impending research in the field, the organizers chose to have people meet at the Indigenous Center.
Addressing the trauma of residential schools is critical to the longevity of Indigenous culture and also helps build dialogue around the horrific legacy of systemic discrimination in Canada, Griffin said.
She said it was great to see such a large crowd of people there as a show of solidarity.
“To see the bikes coming and to see the support from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is breathtaking and the fact that they feel the need to come together,” Griffin said.
“Which is good because that’s how we’re going to make sure things like this never happen again, right? And that’s what we have to do and that’s why it’s so important for indigenous people to let others know.
She said that despite the high-profile discovery of 215 children’s bodies on residential school property in British Columbia last year, the narrative and truth of residential schools in Canada must be continually addressed publicly.
“Like, ‘Do you know what happened in your garden?’ A lot of people don’t even know what’s in Brantford.
Griffin said Indigenous communities are preparing for horrific discoveries on the grounds of the Mohawk Institute.
“We know the numbers are going to be high. It will be very, very traumatic for the community when these numbers come out,” she said.
“But at the same time, it’s something we have to do for these little bodies, these little people. Because they weren’t buried properly.
She said that even if bodies are discovered, the tragedy remains that identification will be nearly impossible.
“Families will never know. There is no way of knowing who they are, the only thing we can say is that they were male or female between that age and that age.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to hear about it. But at the same time, specifically for parents, it has to come out.
Around Canada Day last year, Niagara Regional Native Center general manager Karl Dockstader said that one of the hardest things for Indigenous peoples was trying to convince skeptical Canadians that horrors they always experienced in residential schools were real.
In the year since Canada began its public review of the history of schools, Griffin said the challenge still exists.
“The sad thing is that we still come into contact with people who don’t believe it happened. ‘It didn’t happen’, or ‘it was way before my time’.
“The last one closed in 1996. So it’s not that far in the past that it happened.”
“Like me, I’m just lucky that the Mohawk Institute closed in 1970. If I had had a few more years, chances are I would have been sucked in too.”
Griffin took responsibility for ensuring that her children did not grow up with the negativity that residential schools tried to impose on Indigenous children about their culture.
“As a mother, I tried to teach my children how to be independent, how to have a voice. And that’s extremely important because as Indigenous people we need to have that voice. We must be able to speak for those who cannot speak.
Griffin said she hopes the Ride for Justice will be an even bigger event next year.
“Maybe we could have other aboriginal centers doing the same kind of things in other regions or other provinces.
“That’s what I would like to see.”
Griffin is a motorcyclist herself and has found support in the community on the move.
“The second and third round that happened, I was in tears. I was in absolute tears because it’s so touching that there can be so many people supporting something like this,” a- she declared.
Griffin drives a 1984 Honda Shadow.
“We all know it’s a good cause and we want to step up and help with good charitable causes,” said motorcyclist Paul Dacruz.
Dacruz is a member of the Canadian Veterans Military Club.
“We were asked to participate and thought it was a good cause,” said Steve Mann, armed forces veteran and club member.
The veteran club became involved in the race through another club, Sovereign MC from the Six Nations reserve near Brantford.
“It’s something we support anyway being Six Nations ourselves. It’s close to our hearts, so we’ve decided to make it an official race that we’ll be competing in this year,” said Sovereign MC President Mike Player.
“Every member of our club is of aboriginal descent, so everything is very close to us, with parents who survived residential schools. It’s a personal connection. It’s our culture, it’s who we are as a people.
“The fact that we have endured so much suffering over the past two hundred years, it is important for us as a club to always uphold our cultural values. We make it our duty to support those things that are close to our community, that benefit our community.
“One of the most important things for us is to always give back to our home communities.”
The Sovereign MC’s will be hosting their own ride to raise awareness about residential schools on September 24, called Unity Ride for the Children.
The starting location for the hike has yet to be determined, but the final destination is set in stone: Queenston Heights Park and the Landscape of Nations Monument.
Although the ride has ended at this time, individuals can still make donations at resschoolrideforjustice.ca.
Evan Saunders is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Lake Report. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.