We were very honoured to attend a living history event at the Galilee Renewal Centre in Arnprior on August 8. About 30 canoeists, including Indigenous, Jesuits, English, French, men and women, dropped in on their way from Midland to Montreal on a pilgrimage to mark Canada’s 150th Anniversary celebrations.
The 2017 Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage is a project inspired by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the hope of encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue and learning. Participants, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are immersed in each other’s customs and traditions. Through this immersion, the goal is to foster deep respect, trust, dialogue and hopefully friendship, the building blocks for reconciliation.
The canoe route taken is a traditional First Nations trading route that was travelled by early European settlers such as Samuel de Champlain and Jean de Brébeuf, who were welcomed and guided by the Indigenous Peoples of this land. The route follows a similar one paddled by 24 young Jesuits in 1967. Members of the Jesuit and Oblate religious orders, their lay volunteers and many others across Canada are actively helping to implement the Calls to Action described by the TRC.
About 40 guests were treated to the participative Kairos Blanket Exercise as a means to learn about the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada. Bob, an Indigenous elder from Toronto with a Phd., first led us in a smudging ceremony to purify our bodies, auras and energy. Then we were invited to walk slowly around on adjoining blankets as actors described specific historical events like:
- what Turtle Island was like (Indigenous name for North America before colonization)
- the era of European discovery and colonization of Canada
- proclamation of the first Canadian Indian Act in 1873
- establishment of Residential Schools for Indigenous children after 1880
- U. N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007
- PM Harper’s apology to First Nations peoples of 2008
Towards the end of the exercise, those still walking found themselves greatly reduced in number and, the blankets had shrunk and were separated from each other. This was a grim reminder of the impact colonization and Canadian history has had on Indigenous peoples, from their cultural perspective. We then participated in a talking circle where everyone was invited to reflect on what they had just learned and how they felt. Much compassion, need for forgiveness and commitment to improving relations was expressed, even tears It was a well-balanced and poignant educational experience.
Fr. Ken Forster, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Lacombe Canada Province celebrated an outdoor Mass for everyone under the stately white pines. He emphasized forgiveness, committment and forging ahead in mutual reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Our day finished off with a scrumptious spaghetti and meat ball dinner provided by Galilee. We marveled at the healthy appetite of the young paddlers and for their answering the call to reconciliation, forgiveness and committment.
We all went home more aware of our own history and of the need to support ongoing dialogue of mutual reconciliation based on hope and forgiveness. We felt energized by the vitality of today’s youth in taking up this social challenge. Improving relationships and building trust among all Canadians and in particular with Indigenous peoples is every Canadian’s business. Our sincere thanks to the Galilee organizers, the paddlers and the contributors to this living history event of great educational value.