Bringing the children home

Two riders from the Bring Home the Children Ride pose for a photo while travelling through Piapot First Nation. The ride began north of Prince Albert on Aug. 1 and will end at the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation. -- Photo courtesy of the Bring Home the Children Ride Facebook page.

After roughly a week of riding, Beatle Soop and his compatriots are ready for a well-deserved break.

They’ve made steady progress since starting out from Wahpeton Dakota Nation on Aug. 1 for the inaugural Bring Home the Children Ride. As of Friday, they’re enjoying a breather at Echo Lake Provincial Park, just outside Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice in this ride,” Soop says by phone. “You put somebody on a saddle for 30 km each day in this heat (and) you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

The group of riders changes each day, but there are three main ones: Soop, Robyn Waditaka and Levi Waditaka from Wahpeton. Their goal is to ride from North of Prince Albert, all the way down to Wood Mountain Lakota Nation by Aug. 13.

The project is the brainchild of QBOW Child and Family Services cultural coordinator Neil Sioux, who wanted to draw attention to the high number Indigenous children who are in foster care. Roughly 80 per cent in Saskatchewan, according to the Saskatchewan Child and Youth Advocate’s annual report for 2018.

“We’re going to use the spirit of the horse to bring an awareness to the children who are in foster care, residential school survivors and ‘60s Scoop children, to symbolize an effort to bring these children back into their communities,” Sioux said when QBOW officially announced Bring Home the Children back in July.

Soop agrees.

“The horse always makes his way back home,” he says. “So, the horse is going to bring the children home. That’s the vision.”

So far, the results have been promising. Soop says he’s been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from various Indigenous communities while travelling south. Many of these communities send out their own representatives to ride for a day or two in a show of solidarity, something Soop says is desperately needed.

“I think the success for me is seeing when the communities start to unite, start to create a strong bond—not only within the communities, but within families,” he says. “When this happens we’re going to be a stronger people and a stronger nation.”

“We really lack that on First Nations communities,” he continues. “There’s a lot of hate. There’s a lot of anger. There’s a lot of jealousy, and we’ve got to stop being like that. We’ve got to start caring for one another and working together, and then we’re going to be the great people we once were before colonialism and the European arrival.”

This ride is personal for Soop, who has struggled at times to track down all his family members following the ‘60s Scoop. Roughly three years ago, he met his older brother for the first time. Prior to that, he didn’t even know this brother existed.

Those experiences have shown him just how vital it is to have strong family bonds. He’s hopeful that rides like this will help demonstrate that too. Every morning at 6:30 a.m., Soop, his riders and his camp helpers start with a pipe ceremony.

“There are a lot of trail rides,” he says. “This is a spirit ride. I ride in prayer, so there is a lot of ceremony involved.”

Already, the ride has drawn interest from other provinces, particularly in Southern Alberta, where Soop hails from. He’s already getting calls from friends in that area asking him to start something similar down there.

He hasn’t committed either way, but he’s encouraged to see someone taking action.

I don’t want to say yes or not to it,” he says. “But, if it works out and God plans my trail for that, then I’m going to.”