On Saturday, March 6, Bishop Logan McMenamie of the diocese of British Columbia will take the first steps on a 465-kilometre walk to symbolically “re-enter the land” on behalf of the Anglican church on Vancouver Island.
Beginning with a ceremony hosted by ‘Namgis First Nation in the community of Alert Bay, where the infamous St. Michael’s Indian Residential School stood from 1929 until its demolition in February 2015, McMenamie will follow Highway 19 through the rugged interior of Vancouver Island and down the east coast to Victoria, where he will arrive in time to celebrate Easter.
“This is…maybe the second step on a long journey toward justice,” McMenamie stressed in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “The first step is apology; the second step is realizing that we need to re-enter the land in a new way.”
McMenamie said the idea came to him shortly after his consecration in 2013. He felt strongly that the Anglican church on Vancouver Island needed to commit to a new relationship with its Indigenous members and neighbours, and that commitment needed to take the form of concrete action.
“We came into the Islands as a colonial church, and we failed to see the Creator here, and we failed to see the Creator in First Nations language and teaching and traditions,” he said. “There are some First Nations elders who I speak to who are counsellors for me and I spoke to them about that, and what came to me was, ‘How do we symbolically re-enter this land?'”
McMenamie explained that the idea of “re-entering the land” draws on the Indigenous tradition of the vision quest.
“A leader who goes on a vision quest doesn’t do it by himself; he’s the person who actually does the vision quest, but he goes with the entire community behind him,” McMenamie said.
As he explored the idea with the guidance of some Indigenous elders, the idea for a walk began to take shape.
“I started to think about what that might look like…and what came out of that was the concept of a sacred journey, a vision quest by me on behalf of the diocese with the First Nations people on the land, and to actually walk as much as I could physically do, through the territories, and meeting each of the bands at the territory… in an act of repentance,“ he said.
Leading up to the walk, McMenamie spent a significant amount of time meeting with the chiefs and band councils whose territories he will pass through on his walk “to explain to them why we’re doing what we’re doing.” It is, he said, “all about relationship, that’s the most important factor in this.”
To help him engage appropriately and sensitively with the First Nations whose territories he will be walking through, he enlisted the help of Alex Nelson, a survivor of the recently demolished St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, who is now living in Victoria.
Nelson, who is acting as Logan’s protocol liaison and advisor, said he became interested in working with the bishop when he heard McMenamie speak about wanting to start new, healthier relationships with First Nations after his consecration.
“When the bishop started to explain what his intentions were, it really caught my attention,” he said. “The question for me was how could I assist, and that’s where the protocol concept comes into play, to assist the bishop and the diocese to understand the specifics and the protocols.”
While Nelson has found the chiefs and band councils to be quite open to the idea, he was quick to point out that many Indigenous people on Vancouver Island still associate the church with the deep scars inflicted by the residential school system.
“As soon as you hear the term ‘church,’ it brings that residential school history in our face right away,” he said. “That affiliation with the residential schools is one big major obstacle that immediately comes to people’s minds.”
But Nelson-who will be joining McMenamie on the first leg of the journey from Alert Bay, believes the bishop is making an important gesture toward reconciliation.
“He’s moving on a process of apology-saying one thing and not acting on it…[just] saying it doesn’t resonate. So at this point I see this as an action-oriented mindset,” he said.
While he has done a lot of hiking in the past, McMenamie said he has never “walked anything like this before.” He has spent the past few months training, though, and is “optimistic” that he will be able to complete the journey.
He hopes to cover about 30 km a day, and while he is planning on travelling light, given the long distances between communities especially in the northern part of the island, he will be accompanied by a car (which will lead the way for safety reasons) and an RV for the nights when he is between communities.
Another element of re-entering the land, McMenamie noted, is breaking with the Anglican church’s history of being a privileged institution in Canadian society. He has been very intentional, for example, about not reaching out to the mayors and local governments of the cities and towns he will be passing through.
“I’ve been reluctant to [meet with civic officials], because we want to move away from what we were as a colonial church, very close to government,” he said. “A new relationship with the First Nations people on the Island, and a new legacy for us as Anglicans on the island…[requires] recognizing our colonial past but moving away from that into a relationship for ourselves, different patterns of behaviour.”
When asked what he thinks the significance of the bishop’s walk will be, Nelson grew pensive.
“This is where I see the bishop going: I see him coming out with a small, little flashlight, and he’s making his way in to pave a brighter way of looking at life, and hopefully the spirit of that small flashlight is going to be captured by others, and the light will get bigger and bigger and bigger until the whole daylight comes.”