In front of a sea of orange shirts and bicycle helmets, Diane Sam holds two lengthy braids of hair aloft.
“If you could imagine having long hair and getting to Indian residential school and having them cut off your hair, cutting it off without even thinking about what it meant to the individual. I couldn’t even imagine that happening to me or to my kids.
“I wanted to give you a visual representation of what it would be like to have that much hair hacked off without even a second thought,” Sam said, speaking to the crowd in Songhees Park. “When children arrived at the Indian residential school they thought that the Indian children were dirty, so part of that was cutting off their hair.”
A member of the Songhees Nation and a mom, grandmother and educator, Sam served as guest speaker for the third consecutive year at the Capital Bike Truth and Reconciliation Day Ride in honour of residential school survivors on Sept. 30.
Cutting hair was just one part of the intake process for many students in residential schools that ran in Canada for a century, with the last one closing in 1996.
Sam shared the traditional name of Songhees Point (p’álәc’әs),where the cyclists started, before winding through the city and ending at the annual powwow in Victoria.
Sam shared two cultural pieces associated with the land and adjacent harbour.
“In the past, they would take the baby’s cradle after a year and place the cradle in the water to ensure that the baby would have a long life,” she said.
READ MORE: Stories about truth and reconciliation
She proudly witnessed as three young men recently revived a second tradition. Young men trying to figure out their path in life, each would throw a stone in the water. Then as he dove to retrieve it, the young man would envision his life’s work.
As the first generation in her family to not attend residential school – through “luck of geography” – she thanked the hundreds who turned out for the ride that focuses on active reconciliation.
“I would like to lift my hands up to all of you for being here today and opening your mind and your heart to hear some of the stories of the history of Indian residential school,” she said.
Riders cruised out of Songhees Park along the Songhees Walkway, through downtown, along Dallas Road and up Vancouver Street finishing at Royal Athletic Park where the Songhees Nation hosted the second-annual South Island Powwow.
“We recognize the lasting impacts (of residential schools) on families, friends and communities. Capital Bike wanted to take action towards reconciliation by bringing more people to the powwow and we’re grateful that such a large number of you are attending today,” said Kaye Lowe a director with Capital Bike.
Last year’s inaugural powwow attracted 10,000 people during the grand entry, with more expected this year. Admission is free and everyone is welcome. Gates opened at 10 a.m., with two grand entries at noon and 6 p.m. Colours retire at midnight.