Gurpreet Singh: First Nations woman makes vests for Sikh bikers who stood with Indigenous people

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      Legendary Sikh Riders recently received a legendary gift. 

      Jackie Andrew, an Indigenous woman from Mount Currie, made special vests for members of the local Sikh motorcycle club.

      The beige-coloured garment bears two badges—one with the club’s own and the other with an Indigenous circle of life combining four colours representing different races. It was presented to Malkiat Singh Hoonjan and others from the Legendary Sikh Riders.

      The members rode all the way to Kamloops recently to pay respect to the 215 indigenous children whose remains were discovered from at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

      Andrew wanted to acknowledge the gesture of the club, according to Hoonjan. “Everyone just loved these vests," he said. "They thought they were so cool.”

      Indian residential schools were opened across Canada by churches and colonists as part of a federal government policy to “kill the Indian within Indians”.

      The Canadian government has already acknowledged that it was a wrong thing to do even as the number of Indigenous kids had died in these schools because of the disease, malnutrition and abuse remains inconclusive.

      Indigenous children were forcibly sent to these schools where they were discouraged from keeping their traditional names and prohibited from speaking their mother language. Defiance invited brutal punishment.

      As more and more unmarked graves are being located through ground-penetrating radar, the Sikh community has stepped forward to show solidarity with the First Nations, who are grieving.

      On July 18, the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey held special prayers for the deceased Indigenous children.

      Temple officials invited special speakers to educate its congregation on the issue. One of them, Gurmeet Singh Toor, noted that only a minority or an oppressed community can understand the pain of another oppressed group of people.

      Toor and others at the gurdwara  are very vocal against repression of minorities, including Sikhs in India.

      Those who addressed the gathering included Indigenous educator Jennifer Sherif and antiracism educator Annie Ohana. Sherif has started a petition asking for statutory holiday on Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.

      Another Indigenous activist, Rhiannon Bennett, was scheduled to speak but could not make it. She sent a note of thanks to the Sikh community. Her note explained that her absence was due to feeling overwhelmed by recent news about the existence of unmarked graves from Kuper Island, where some of her relatives were taken. Her statement was read by Ohana at the temple. 

      Anyone feeling distress in connection with this issue can call a 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be reached toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.