They were just children when they were forced to attend a school far away from home and the only life and family they ever knew.
Hundreds of innocent children ran away from the Mush Hole countless times, only to be tracked down, caught and forced to return to the hellscape that was the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, today known as the Woodland Cultural Centre.
Many of those children are still alive today. The school closed down in the early 70s but the memories are still fresh for people like John Elliott, a Mohawk man from Six Nations who attended the church-run institution from 1947 to 1952.
Born in 1936, Elliott was placed in the Mush Hole for truancy.
But like many kids who attended the government-sponsored school, Elliott was forced to perform manual labour on the farm that sat adjacent to the school property in addition to his studies.
At the age of 17, he started working in the construction and painting industries.
After 63 years of work, he finally retired and eventually returned home to Six Nations.
Currently, he is a director with the Mohawk Village Memorial Park and the Survivors’ Secretariat, an organization that was formed to search the grounds of the former residential school for potential hidden graves of children who attended the school.
As a child, Elliott had a history of running away from the Mush Hole, especially on Christmas Eve.
The distance from the Mush Hole to Six Nations can range anywhere from 18 km along Highway 54 to Chiefswood Park, up to over 20 or 25 km, depending on where one’s home was on the reserve.
Countless stories exist of malnourished children running away from the abuse and neglect they faced at residential schools, which were created to force Indigenous children to assimilate into Canadian culture by abandoning their culture and language.
Even on Elliott’s first day, he and his brother ran away from the Mush Hole – so named due to the never-ending sticky bowls of “mushy” porridge the kids ate for breakfast every day, while survivors tell of teachers enjoying fresh fruit and eggs from the farm the children laboured on – delicacies the children weren’t allowed to enjoy.
This Saturday, on Sept. 16, survivors like John will be holding a Walk-A-Thon at the blue track in Ohsweken starting at 10 a.m. to raise funds for the Mohawk Village Memorial Park, a project long in the works to honour former students and survivors.
This Saturday’s event is in honour of John and all the children who felt it necessary to run away from the Mohawk Institute.
Many will be walking the blue track in Ohsweken and raising funds for the memorial village, a park planned on five acres near the former Mohawk Institute at 184 Mohawk Street in Brantford. But some will be running, including me.
I will be running roughly 21 km from the Woodland Cultural Centre to the blue track in Ohsweken on Saturday in honour of all survivors and the horrors they faced as children attending the Mush Hole and anyone is welcome to join me and contribute to the fundraising effort for the Mohawk Village Memorial Park.
The park is meant to provide a place of remembrance where the human dignity of survivors can be recognized and honoured.
Included in the park will be memorials, walking paths, and decorative landscaping as well as a variety of features including a pavilion, fire pit, children’s play area, memorial circle, orchard and water pond feature.
Several of the survivors and board members for the Mohawk Park and Survivors’ Secretariat will be at the blue track on Saturday.
Many local organizations are working to raise funds, too.
If anyone is interested in donating to the development of the park, please send donations to the following link at Canada Helps: www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/mohawk-village-memorial-park/p2p/ParkRun2023