I recently committed to participating in a Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights being organized by mennonite church canada and christian peacemaker teams.
The plan is to walk from kitchener to ottawa (April 23-May 14) to educate churches about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to advocate for the implementation of the Declaration in canadian law through Bill C-262.
At first, I was intimidated by the distance (ok, I still am) – can I really walk 600 kilometres?
But then I learned about the Water Walk.
This annual walk was started by Josephine Mandamin, an Anishnawbe grandmother and her community, who in 2003, walked around the entirety of lake superior to call for the protection of our waters. In following years, the Water Walkers have walked around each of the great lakes and this year, they will depart just days before our walk begins and make their way from duluth, minnesota, over the lakes, through ontario and into quebec. They don’t say how long the walk will be….but it will be significantly longer than 600 kilometres.
There is a strong history of Indigenous peoples walking for long distances to proclaim their presence, call attention to injustice, inspire right action, and to seek spiritual growth and healing as the walk connects them to the land, and to each other.
There is also a long history of pilgrimage in the christian tradition – and the spiritual practice of walking has seen a popular resurgence as people from around the world continue to flock to places such as the camino de santiago in spain. Walking holds an allure as an experience that can hold together what the western mind has been taught to think of as separate: the physical and the spiritual. And in this case, the political and the spiritual.
There are many good reasons to pull out a pair of walking shoes.
As I understand it, the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights has come to be as a response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. No less than 16 different Calls to Action identify the Declaration (UNDRIP) as the road map to reconciliation between First Nations and settler canadians.
I believe that this work of reconciliation is the primary task of the church and all of settler society in canada today.
It is long past time to disrupt our ongoing patterns of colonization and the ways our settler community benefits from the oppression of our Indigenous neighbours. And the church has played a central role in creating these systems of oppression. Engaging actively and courageously with the Declaration is one way to deepen our participation in the process of disruption, of decolonization.
I also believe that this work of reconciliation is an invitation. An invitation marked by grace, and bearing the possibility of healing.
When I think about it, it is rather astonishing to me that the First Nations of Turtle Island have any interest in being reconciled to us (and not all do I imagine). The opportunity for creating new forms of relationship is a sacred gift and one we should not take lightly.
As I begin to prepare my body, heart, and mind for this journey, the question that calls to me comes from the Honourable Murray Sinclair in an interview in “Wrongs to Rights”. He asks: “Do churches have hope that they will be able to have a relationship with Indigenous Peoples?”
This Pilgrimage is an opportunity for us, mennonite church canada and beyond, to declare our hope for this relationship. To embody our desire to live in a good way, a just way, a mutually enlivening and empowering way with the Indigenous communities of this land.
I will be walking in order to find my place in the disruption and the hope.
I will be walking to listen, as deeply as I can, to the voices of my Indigenous sisters and brothers – to listen with my feet, with my occasionally aching knees, with every part of my body. So that I might carry what I hear in the depths of my heart.
I will be walking to declare that I am no longer willing to benefit from the oppression of Indigenous Peoples.
I will be walking in prayer – seeking the Creator’s healing grace for all of us.
If you would like to walk too, whether for one day or twenty-one, I would love to hear from you. There will be other opportunities to support the pilgrimage as well, if walking is not an option for you.
You can find out more details from the Pilgrimage website, and I will be organizing PiE affiliated folks who want to participate in some way.
Tamara Shantz is an interim pastor with Pastors in Exile. She is covering Jessica’s parental leave until the end of August, 2017.
In addition to working with PiE, Tamara is a spiritual director and Enneagram teacher. She attends Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.