#everychildmatters: my 215km ride for awareness
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
A few days ago, I committed to biking 215km on mountain bike trails to help bring awareness to the government's horrendous history of institutionalising under-privileged children and families. Rather than providing families the support they need, children have been taken away from their parents and put in institutions where they are neglected and abused. Every 50km, I will update this post with a photo from a spot where I stopped to reflect and a reading recommendation on a specific people that have suffered through institutionalised neglect/abuse under the eye of the Canadian Government.
If you would like to join me on my 215km path towards awareness, please feel free to share my post and/or post your own updates on social media. Or, do 215 of something else – like read 215 articles on the subject of youth “protection” or/and racism, or spend 215 minutes doing something to bring awareness to the plight of institutionalised children – like writing to your MP or/and volunteer at an organization that educates people about the effects of racism and discrimination (for a list of 20 in Canada, see https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/anti-racism-organizations-canada/?fbclid=IwAR3ohJU0a8_fWhEiXt_xakv3I7o_VsjIqmCVn1gS-UWAaXUoDi62iJ4D2wE)
Find out why mountain biking is particularly significant to my path towards awareness, connectivity, and unity here.
Km 1-50: Indigenous Peoples and residential schools
My first 50km was dedicated to indigenous peoples across Canada and the horrific institutionalisation of their children in residential schools and consequential intergenerational trauma this has caused. Over 150,000 children were forcefully taken away from their families and put in residential schools where they were systematically and violently stripped of their culture and language. There are over 3000 recorded deaths, but as the mass grave recently discovered in BC proves, there are likely many more. Intergenerational trauma is the worst kind, as this is trauma that has affected a people so deeply that it follows them through generations in the form of social issues (depression, anxiety, PTSD and resulting substance abuse, for example) that were caused by the source of the trauma. When a people’s culture and language is systematically attacked by a governing force, they suffer intergenerational trauma.
I took the above photo because this spot makes me think of the path towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples and acknowledgement of the horror they have suffered through. Let us all come together and emerge from the shadows in support of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Although there are many insightful books on the subject, Richard Wagamese’s “Indian Horse” is one that particularly spoke to my heart as Saul Indian Horse’s story demonstrates how hard it is to escape from trauma associated with residential schools and racism.
Other recommended resources:
"For Indigenous Children in Canada, the Legacy of Residential Schools Never Ended" (National Observer - Karyn Pugliese aka Pabàmàdiz)
"Gord Downie's The Secret Path" (CBC Arts)
"Childhood Denied: Indian Residential Schools and their Legacy" (Canadian Museum for Human Rights)
Km 51-100: Teen mothers and their orphaned children
Km 51-100 was dedicated to unwed teen mothers who were put in "maternity homes" against their will and their children who were put up for adoption or sent to orphanages without consent from their mothers. As someone who was a teen mother, Canada's history of institutionalizing unwed mothers and robbing them of their children hits a nerve close to my heart. Up until the 70s, many young unwed mothers were sent to birthing institutions where they resided throughout their pregnancy and were subjected to abuse/neglect - their breasts bound to prevent lactation, told they were shameful and unfit mothers, tied down during the birth of their child, not permitted to hold their newborn, and stripped of their right to raise their child. The children of these women often didn't fare well either, many ending up in orphanages where abuse/neglect was more common than not. To put things into perspective, between 1945-1971, 600,000 births in Canada were recorded as "illegitimate births." Most of the women who gave birth to these registered "illegitimate" children did so in the above mentioned "maternity homes," or/and had their babies taken from them upon birth.
I spotted the above Ladyslipper orchid growing wild along the edge of a bike trail. Like wild orchids, teen mothers are beautiful yet fragile flowers who need our respect and support in order to thrive, and like all vulnerable people they need environments with resources conducive to their unique needs.
For insight into what life was like for many young unwed mothers and their children, I recommend Joanna Goodman's "The Home for Unwanted Girls." Goodman writes about the plight of the "Duplessis Orphans," when many Quebecois children born out of wedlock in the 1950s were housed in asylums because they were cheaper than orphanages (thanks to the federal and provincial governments and the Catholic Church). The children were subjected to violent abuse and psychiatric experimentation. Many of the mothers searched for their children once they came of age, but were told untruthfully that the records had been lost. Although this story took place in Quebec, the other provinces have their own similar dark histories concerning their institutionalization of unwed mothers and "illegitimate" children. #teenmothers
"The Shame is Ours: forced adoption of the babies of unmarried mothers in post-war Canada" (Senate Canada - Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology)
"Canada's Shameful Post-war Treatment of Unwed Mothers" (Policy Options - Art Eggleton, Chantal Petitclerc)
"Duplessis Orphans" (Canada's Human Rights History)
Km 101-150: How systemic racism encourages the institutionalization of Black and Indigenous Peoples
I dedicated Km 101-150 to Black and Indigenous Peoples' struggle with systemic racism and state-sponsored institutionalization of their loved ones.
I think most of us will agree that there is no room for racism in our homes. But, what happens when racism is systemic ... built into the foundation of our community, society, our country? What happens when we can't see it clearly ... can't see how we (yes, we, like you and me) are unwittingly propagating it ... and how our actions/inactions may be affecting our friends, our family, our neighbours, the new kid on the block, the one with the big scared eyes, that was just fostered by a local family?
Systemic racism is ingrained in every nook, every cranny, every aspect of Canadian policy and institutions. It is why there is a huge discrepancy between numbers of Euro-descendants and Black and Indigenous descendants in youth and adult detention centres. It is not a strange coincidence that Black and Indigenous youth are more likely to end up in state care, nor is it because Black and Indigenous youth are somehow "inherently more prone to troubles." It is because, in Canada, a person must comply with the Canadian definition of the "ideal citizen" (i.e. Euro- descendant) in order to be truly accepted as deserving of equal rights and equitable living, including access to resources (like clean water and affordable housing, for example). People who don't fit the ideal suffer the effects of marginalization, which include lack of funding for needed resources, poverty, social issues, and institutionalization.
If we honestly want to be the inclusive nation that we like to brag about, we ALL need to address our compliance in systemic racism. This is not about guilt - rather, it is about participating in change that will save lives. You can help create change by informing yourself about systemic racism and sending a letter to your local MP demanding changes - for example, equitable employment opportunities, a living-wage for all, and clean water for all.
I chose to include this particular photo (view from Quentin's mountain bike trail, Golden BC) because it represents new growth. Although the removal of the old growth forest in this area was a systemic attack on our natural environment and Peoples, I see the new growth as full of possibilities. Black and Indigenous Peoples, cultures and languages, are under attack. It will be up to ALL of us to address systemic racism and shape the future. The only way is forward and we have the power. Let's not f**k this up.
Desmond Cole's "The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power" is what I recommend you read in order to learn more about how systemic racism affects people, and how it encourages the institutionalization of Black and Indigenous children and families. Further, Cole discusses how Black and Indigenous Peoples, cultures and languages, have been subject to such mass discrimination and subjugation, that it can be interpreted as genocide. For everyone who seeks to understand: "The Skin We're In" is a must-read.
What is Systemic Racism? (National Post)
Indigenous Experiences with Racism and its Impacts (National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health)
The Overrepresentation of Minority Youth in Canada's Justice System (PPG Review)
Five Charts That Show What Systemic Racism Looks Like in Canada (CTV News)
Black Lives Matter Canada
Km 150-215: System kids and the people who help lift them up
I biked the last 75km in support of kids in youth protection (i.e. system kids) and their "bridge builders" - the people who care for system kids, believe in them, and help lift them up.
Every child who enters the youth protection system is dealing with trauma. As I've described elsewhere, trauma is a tricky monster. The effects of trauma surface in ways that may not be easily understandable from an outsider's viewpoint. In youth, trauma is often expressed through rebellious or antisocial behaviour, or through eating disorders, self-harm, and high-risk behaviour. One thing that all youth suffering from trauma have in common is a feeling of overwhelming odds stacked against them.
For system kids, this feeling of impossible odds is unfortunately a stark reality. Few kids in youth protection even receive a high school diploma, which has nothing to do with their intelligence and affects their lives dramatically. Without constructive pro-active support in their lives, many system kids never escape the "trauma monster" and are unable to build a peaceful life for themselves. In order to step into the future, system kids need people who build bridges by providing support and resources that will help them move forward in life and thrive. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of some adults that saw possibility in me and opened up opportunities that would not have been accessible otherwise.
So, a big cheer to the bridge-builders for believing in kids, giving them the boost they need to succeed, and changing (often saving) lives ❤️🩹 You are the way forward.
Nancy Audet, author of "Plus jamais la honte: le parcours improbable d'une petite poquée," is a renowned Québécoise sports journalist and youth ambassador whose life experience demonstrates the power of negative vs positive care. Her story is downright heartbreaking but also the most inspiring one I've read this year.
The domestic abuse Audet was subject to as a child was obvious and known about in her community, and got so bad that she thought she wouldn’t survive it. Unfathomably, social services failed her as they did not intervene with adequate resources – such as family support and interventions against child abuse. What kept her going and ultimately achieving her goals & dreams in life (besides her impressive willpower) were the few people who stepped up, believed in her, and held her close when she needed it most.
The thing that impressed me most about Audet's story though, alongside the help provided by her "bridge-builders," was her inner strength, empathetic heart, and ability to overcome the effects of trauma, without becoming angry and bitter, and in turn become a bridge-builder herself. This book is well worth a read - for youth workers, for parents, for those who've suffered through childhood trauma, and for anyone still wondering what the hell a "bridge-builder" is. Thank you for sharing your story, Nancy 💞
"Young Canadians" (Government of Canada) https://www.canada.ca/en/services/youth.html
"Webinar: Mentoring as an early intervention: a proactive approach to youth homelessness" (David French, Alberta Mentoring Partnership)
CARE Jeunesse - a support community for Quebec's youth in care and alumni of care
Head & Hands
Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (Alberta))
Society for Children and Youth of BC (BC)
The Youth Services Bureau Foundation (Ontario)