It’s been just over a week now since the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights arrived in Ottawa.
Including the first day of the walk, more than 200 different people joined in for at least a few hours as we called for justice and a new form of relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers on Turtle Island.
Over 20 people walked for the entire three weeks and close to 600 kilometres.
Most days there was a core group of 30 walkers with the numbers rising as we approached our final destination.
I was grateful to be able to join the walk, physically, for the final 10 days or so.
Now, as I sit at the KPL, watching people walk by on the sidewalk, I continue to be struck by the power and beauty of our circle of walkers, by the enthusiasm of all those who supported us along the way, and by the tangible, sacred energy we found in our common intention and our focused, embodied action.
I walked here this morning – and I missed the circle.
I missed looking ahead for the flags leading our path. The at times taunting voice over the megaphone urging us on, and various safety instruction: ‘get to the left! Truck!’. The support vehicles just within view for when one more step is just not possible.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about why I was walking to Ottawa.
One aspect of why I would be walking, I wrote, was in order to find my place in the disruption of our colonial systems of oppression as well as to find my place in the hope of the possibility of new relationships between Indigenous and settler – of the possibility of living together in a good way.
I can see now that what I was really looking for was guidance for how to live well in my place as a settler on stolen land. For a teaching to follow as I try to heed the call to reconciliation.
The teaching I needed to receive came on my first full day of walking.
We began each day with a time of reflection based on themes found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our theme for that day was “Place”. As I walked along the road, I prayed that God might show me something about the spirit of this place, this land upon which we walked.
As I encountered the rugged beauty of the traditional lands of the Algonquin, I was given two particular words to characterize the spirit of that place: endurance and resilience.
I would hear these words echo throughout our time on the road – especially as we listened to the Indigenous elders and leaders we met along the way.
The first lesson in endurance and resilience came from Romeo Saganash. Saganash is a Member of Parliament and is the author of the Private Member’s Bill, C-262, that we were advocating for through the walk.
Saganash has been a part of creating the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples since the process began in 1982. He endured through 25 years of negotiations, process, and advocacy (incredibly determined advocacy!), and continues his life’s work as he tries to see UNDRIP fully implemented into Canadian law.
Altogether, 35 years of advocacy for basic Indigenous Rights.
As I listened to Saganash speak at our various public events along the route to Ottawa, I was humbled by his commitment and challenged to consider the long list of ’causes’ I have left behind, in my own relatively short life.
And I wonder, is there a life long work that will call out my endurance? That will challenge my resilience?
Is participating in the work of decolonization that life long work? Am I ready to commit?
Two weeks into the walk, we were hosted for an amazing night at the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation Cultural Centre.
The community’s Chief, Doreen Davis graciously gave of her time to teach us something about the Algonquins’ national and communal history; narrating for us the lengthy and ingenious battle they won defending the land against uranium mining.
I was fascinated by all that I heard, and astonished, again, at my ignorance.
I knew nothing of the Algonquin nation or the complexities of treaty history and how Ottawa and the surrounding area continues to operate on unceded Algonquin territory.
After years of studying history in school, I am aware that I need to start over. That I need to seek out “new to me” learning – learning about Indigenous history on this land and more about how my ancestors related to them.
I have learned a little along the way – but very little. I have a long way to go.
And for me, this is the second teaching of endurance. One elder, Pat Makokis of Saddle Lake Cree First Nation, left a great impact on the walkers and I was told by a few people about her statement that she has been learning ‘our’ (European) culture and worldview for over 20 years.
She followed this comment with the question: How much time have we settlers spent learning about Indigenous cultures and world views?
And so my studies begin in earnest…. and the walk continues.
I pray that the Creator will continue to teach me about endurance and resilience as I walk.
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.