23.4 C
Niagara Falls
Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Motorcycle squads ride to keep residential school history out of shadows
About 120 bikers took part in the Ride for Justice on Sunday afternoon. DAVE VAN DE LAAR
Women drum and sing for the motorcycle riders as they pull up to the Native Centre after a long ride. DAVE VAN DE LAAR
Volunteers from left, Monica Stauch, Jennifer Riegler, Candice Burton and her daughter Mya Burton. EVAN LOREE
Riders enter the Niagara Regional Native Centre after the Ride for Justice. EVAN LOREE
Riders dismount at the Niagara Regional Native Centre after the ride. EVAN LOREE_1
From left, Alex Lein, Bill Crawford and Dave Spotton share cigars after their ride. EVAN LOREE
Mark Baker, commander of the Hamilton chapter of the 999th Legion, with his Suzuki Bandit 600. EVAN LOREE

Hailed by smoke bombs and the rhythmic beat of leather-skinned hand drums, motorcycle riders from across southern Ontario rolled into Niagara Sunday afternoon in an effort to bring attention to a painful legacy for many in Canada’s history.

About 120 riders from a handful of motorcycle clubs rolled up to the Niagara Regional Native Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake to boost awareness of the legacy of residential schools, in a campaign called the Ride for Justice.

“We created the ride to bring awareness, basically to help the survivors,” said ride organizer Justin Bearelle.

The campaign also collected donations to support Indigenous-based organizations, with the Native Centre and the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society among this year’s recipients.

Volunteers helped set up fundraising activities before the ride, such as a penny raffle. Bearelle said the ride raised about $6,000 in donations, but by press time, he said he was still waiting on donations to come in through the group’s website.

One of the volunteers was Jennifer Riegler, a member of the Red Spirit Motorcycle Club. She said she feels a personal connection to the more than 150,000 children who attended Indian residential schools and were subjected to what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to “cultural genocide.”

“I’m a mom myself, so I could just imagine the devastation with these children,” Riegler said.

“I think this needs to stay active and not get lost,” she added.

For some of the bikers at the Ride for Justice, the grisly history of residential schools did not become apparent until news of mass child graves being discovered by radar technology in Kamloops, B.C., made national headlines.

Bearelle said it hit close to home for him because he has family in Kamloops, some of whom would have been in residential schools.

He said it’s important to “educate yourself” about the history and “the sacrifices the native people went through.”

The first residential school was opened in 1831 and the last school did not close until 1996.

Children who attended the schools were given substandard education, were malnourished by the staff and were punished for speaking their language or practising their culture.

And the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the abuse and maltreatment as “institutionalized.” 

For rider Alex Lein, it was the extent of the issue that surprised him the most.

“This was orchestrated across the country specifically to destroy cultures,” he said.

Lein discussed how the intent of residential schools was, in words frequently attributed to Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, to “kill the Indian in the child.”

“That’s some racist bulls—,” he said.

Mark Baker, commander of the Hamilton chapter of the 999th Legion Motorcycle Club, shared the same view.

“I didn’t realize this was nearly as big as it was. This is gigantic,” he said.

A portion of the money the Ride for Justice raises will be used to support youth programs, said Dawn Moughtin, one of the Native Centre’s executive directors.

This year, she said, the centre can use the money to fund summer camp activities.

“It allows them to go take like off-site trips for the end of camp,” she said.

And since the donation are received, the centre does not have to pursue other channels for funding and can spend with flexibility.

“If there’s a family that that needs rent support we can do that,” she said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, published in 2015, stated that from the beginning, both the Canadian government and the churches running schools “placed their own interests ahead of the children in their care” and then covered up the abuse.

The lack of discipline and supervision of the staff “created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers,” it said.

Nobody wants to admit or acknowledge the way they’ve been treated in Canada and still continue to be treated,” Baker said. 

Lein, agreed, pointing out he was in high school when the last residential school closed.

“This is not something that happened a long time ago. This is an ongoing process.”

Subscribe to our mailing list