A local business owner and member of Wahta First Nation has raised $50,000 for Woodland Cultural Centre’s Save the Evidence campaign, providing one of the campaign’s largest individual donations to date.
Save the Evidence is the Woodland Cultural Centre’s initiative to raise awareness and support for the restoration of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School. The centre is repairing and transforming the building into a historic site and educational centre that will share the history and impact of residential schools in Canada. Leonard Montour is a Turtle Clan Mohawk and a band member of Wahta First Nation as well as CEO and owner of Wolf Energy Fuels, a gas station in Wahta Mohawk Territory near Bala. Along with his wife Deanna and their team at the gas station, he raised $50,000 for the Save the Evidence campaign through t-shirt sales.
“I just bought as many shirts as I could right away, so I put up tens of thousands [of dollars] to secure the shirts,” Montour said. “Luckily I have eight staff that helped out tremendously, so we’ve already sold over 5,000.”
His team also sold other items like hats, sweaters and keychains to raise funds, but most of the money came from t-shirts, he said. Being Indigenous himself, the cause is close to his heart, and philanthropy and activism have been important to his family for generations.
Alongside his friend and business partner Ken Hill, Montour’s uncle Jerry created the Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation, which provides grants to Indigenous individuals and communities for education, arts, sports and healthcare initiatives. His grandfather was also committed to raising money for a variety of causes, which led Montour to develop a passion for giving.
“I feel a great sense of pride in being able to have the ability to do it,” Montour said. “A lot of people, they want to be able to do things, they just can’t mobilize the resources or the people, so I actually feel like it’s my responsibility to help out and I have a lot more planned in the future.”
Montour intends to build a mental health facility and a sports complex in Wahta. He’s also continuing to fundraise for the Save the Evidence campaign in hopes of raising $100,000 overall. To celebrate reaching the $50,000 mark, Montour and his team are hosting a cheque presentation at the gas station on Sept. 30, the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in honour of the people and communities affected by residential schools.
At noon, Montour will present the cheque to Wahta Mohawk Chief Philip Franks, who also serves as vice chairperson for the Woodland Cultural Centre’s Board of Directors. The presentation will be followed by free pizza and all are welcome to attend, Montour said. He’s hoping the donation will raise more awareness for the Save the Evidence campaign and inspire others to support causes like it.
“The past doesn’t define the future,” Montour said. “It’s time for healing, and our people are strong when we’re united. I just think we need to take this chance to all get united so we never forget what happened.”
Janis Monture is the executive director of the Woodland Cultural Centre and a member of Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River. She and her team were overwhelmed and humbled to find out about Montour’s donation.
“We were very shocked when we got the news because it is one of the largest individual donations that we are seeing for the campaign and to come from an Indigenous community member, it just speaks volumes,” Monture said. “It really speaks volumes to the commitment that our communities have to ensuring that this site is saved and that people will be able to learn the true history of what these institutions stood for.”
Monture is hopeful that renovations at the site will be complete by the end of 2024 so that they can start to welcome guests for guided tours of the building. The tours will show what it was like to be a child in the residential school system, she said, while also contextualizing the history of the schools and helping people understand the intergenerational impact they’ve had.
“We hope that when people leave they think of that and reflect on what the legacy of residential schools are, about what is the legacy of reconciliation,” Monture said. “That is our goal and the funds that Leonard and Deanna are donating are going towards the final phase, which is the interpretive heritage phase of the campaign. Their donation is directly going to what the visitor is going to experience when they come to the site.”
It’s important for people across the country to learn more by connecting with and supporting Indigenous organizations, businesses and communities, she said. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is “a moment of reflection, a moment of memorialization,” but it’s also an important reminder to see the “vibrancy” of Indigenous communities and to celebrate their culture.
Receiving this donation on a day recognizing the history and impact of the residential school system is significant, Monture said, and she hopes it will remind Canadians to reflect on its importance and educate themselves beyond the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“Let’s not just remember it on September 30,” Monture said. “Let’s reflect every day of the year and look at ways to build relationships with non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities moving forward, because I think that at the end the day is really the true message that we want is for our communities to start to heal and to strengthen those relationships.”
To learn more about the Woodland Cultural Centre and their Save the Evidence Campaign, visit their website. To attend the cheque presentation, visit Wolf Energy Fuels (off Highway 400 near the exit for Iroquois Cranberry Growers Drive) at noon on Thursday, Sept. 30. For more information on Wolf Energy Fuels and their location, click here.
Anyone impacted by residential schools and in need of support can contact the 24-Hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. Indigenous people can also contact The Hope for Wellness helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for counselling and crisis intervention. Call the helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or use the online chat.