When Bishop Logan McMenamie of the diocese of British Columbia approached the steps of Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, B.C., on the morning of March 27-Easter Sunday-he took the final steps of a gruelling 470-km journey to “re-enter the land.”
“The apology we gave as a national church and the apologies I have given here are only one small step on a journey toward reconciliation,” he told the Anglican Journal a few days later over the phone. “There is a lot of work to be done, a lot of relationship building.”
Twenty days earlier, March 7, McMenamie had set out from Alert Bay on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island in a symbolic walk of contrition and repentance for the Anglican church’s role in colonizing the land and participating in the disastrous Indian residential school system.
The idea of undertaking a long-distance walk grew out of conversations McMenamie had with elders and leaders from several of the Indigenous communities within his diocese following his consecration as bishop in 2013. He felt the need to do something tangible that would communicate his desire to lead the Anglican church into a new relationship with the Indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island.
The notion of symbolically “re-entering the land”-of apologizing for the arrogance with which Europeans first made contact with First Nations by re-enacting that first meeting in a more respectful way-was inspired by Indigenous vision quest traditions, where a leader will embark on a spiritually significant journey on behalf of his or her people, McMenamie said.
In order to make sure it was executed in a way that honoured traditional First Nations territorial boundaries, he did extensive preparations beforehand, meeting with nations and tribes whose territory he would be travelling through to discuss the journey.
“Many of the chiefs asked me, before I even started the journey, ‘So what are you going to do next?’ ” McMenamie recalled. “And I thought to myself, ‘I haven’t even taken one step yet!’ But then I realized the question was, “Is this only going to be a flash in the pan?’ ”
McMenamie responded to these concerns by reaffirming the church’s commitment to “take seriously the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and start looking at what that means for us as a diocese,” and while not every community felt able to formally greet the bishop on his journey, all gave their permission for him to pass through their territory. Some-such as Qualicum First Nation Chief Michael Recalma-went so far as to welcome him on the threshold of their traditional lands and engage in rituals of gift-giving.
“I was received very well [by] the First Nations communities,” he said. “There were a variety of different responses, but significant, I think, gains in relationship.”
The bishop also took a few detours that led him off the road to meet a group of Anglicans and visit a parish, which lengthened the walking distance from Alert Bay to Victoria from 465 km to 470 km.
The journey itself had some surprising ups and downs. McMenamie, who was accompanied by a car leading the way for safety, an RV to sleep in and his project manager Wayne Stewart, who kept a blog of the journey, had expected the hardest part of the journey to be the first leg, which passed from Alert Bay to Campbell River through the island’s mountainous interior. But he said the silence and lack of traffic made this one of the most peaceful parts of the walk.
“When you get that opportunity to be in prayer and meditation for six hours a day as you are walking through just an outstanding part of our diocese, an outstanding part of our country, that was very positive,” he said, noting that the denser, more populous eastern part of the island was much more stressful due to the heavy traffic.
While McMenamie said he felt the walk had laid a strong foundation for future relationship building, he stressed that the diocese needs to be in it for the long haul.
“One of the things I learned coming down [the coast] was patience. One step at a time, one day at a time to get through,” he said. “But there is a whole bunch of issues we need to work on.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Michael Recalma as the chief of Kwalikum First Nation.