Anglicans back Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

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Pilgrimage walkers at the Prime Minister’s Office, waiting to present a letter and gifts for Prime Minister Trudeau. Photo: Chris Harrison
Pilgrimage walkers at the Prime Minister’s Office, waiting to present a letter and gifts for Prime Minister Trudeau. Photo: Chris Harrison

Organized by the Mennonite Church Canada and the Christian Peacemaker Teams, the 600-kilometre “Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights” from Kitchener, Ont., to Ottawa had the support of several Anglican clergy, parishioners and churches.

Many Anglican congregations “not only offered a place to stay, but hosted community dinners and teach-ins to introduce their members to the pilgrimage walkers and our goals,” Esther Townshend, co-ordinator of Student Christian Movement in Toronto, told the Anglican Journal in an e-mail May 31.

Among the hosting churches, based in Ontario, were the Anglican parishes of St. James, Dundas; Church of the Epiphany, Oakville; St. Margaret’s, Etobicoke; St. Thomas, Millbrook; St. John the Evangelist, Peterborough; St. Paul’s, Marmora; Christ Church, Ashton; and St. Paul’s, Kanata. “In both Marmora and Ashton, the pilgrimage brought together Anglican and United Church congregations that partnered to host us,” Townshend reported.

As well, several Anglican clergy and congregants joined the trekkers at different points to walk for the day,” said Townshend, an Anglican who guided the pilgrimage through Toronto and joined the final 10 days of the trek.

Other Anglican priests who walked a portion of the route included Rev. Maggie Helwig (St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto), the Rev. Andrea Budgey (Trinity College chaplain) and the Rev. Kerri Brennan (Christ Church, Ashton).

Indigenous National Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald planned to join the pilgrimage in Toronto, but had to cancel because of a death in his community. “The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights is both exciting and timely, more accurately urgent,” he told organizers. “It is a pilgrimage for the heart of Canada.”

The core group of about 30 trekkers left Kitchener for Ottawa April 23 to press the federal government to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The pilgrimage was also in response to Article 48 of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 64 Calls to Action.  It states: “We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.”

The pilgrimage wrapped up May 13 with a “Walk the Talk” rally at the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa. Among those attending was NDP MP Romeo Saganash, whose private member’s Bill C-262 is up for second reading in September. It calls for the adoption and implementation of UNDRIP and has the support of the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights.

Saganash told the rally that Indigenous people have been promised many things in the Canada’s 150-year history, the Ottawa Citizen reported May 14.

“As long as our children continue to take their own lives, as long as women and girls continue to get murdered, as long as there is not safe-drinking water, I can’t celebrate Canada 150,” he said. “This is about fundamental rights.”

Key sections of the TRC’s Calls to Action as well as the UN Declaration were to be read out during a walk through downtown Ottawa following the rally.

Organizers also said in a news release, “The pilgrimage, and this final day of activity, are a call to account for political leaders, church leaders, and all segments of Canadian society to meaningfully discuss and then act upon what it means to de-colonize a society built on what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission clearly identified as ‘cultural genocide.’”

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Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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