Canoe pilgrimage is riding the wave of reconciliation

Jesuits in the Canoe PilgrimageJuly 25, 2017 — The path to reconciliation between Canada and its First Nations’ people will ultimately be a long journey. Too large of a schism has developed among the two cultures over 400 years, with the newcomers overwhelming the founding nations.

But it’s a path that needs to start somewhere.

The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage is a small starting point aiming to kickstart the reconciliation process. Inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the pilgrimage — two-and-a-half years in planning — set off from Ste. Marie Among the Hurons in Midland, Ont., July 21 on a month-long, nearly 900-km canoe journey expected to end Aug. 15 at the Kahnawake First Nation near Montreal. Among the stops along the route will be North Bay, Mattawa, Pembroke and Ottawa.

Bringing together different cultures in the Canadian mosaic, the pilgrimage hopes to foster respect, trust, dialogue and friendship, the building blocks of reconciliation.

The goal is to have the diverse core group of 30 Indigenous, Jesuit, English- and French-Canadian paddlers (with others joining at stops along the way) become immersed in each others’ customs and traditions for an entire month.

Participants of the Canoe Pilgrimage

“We’re working together, both sides in a sense, coming through this,” said Kevin Kelly, a Jesuit scholastic who is among the pilgrimage’s organizers.

Significantly, the pilgrimage is happening during Canada’s 150th anniversary, 50 years after the Jesuits embarked on a similar journey for Canada’s centennial celebrations, a pilgrimage that embraced ecumenism as opposed to reconciliation.

The journey will take paddlers along a historic route travelled by Samuel Champlain, St. Jean de Brébeuf and other settlers alongside their First Nations’ guides. Beginning at Midland, the group will follow the shores of Georgian Bay to the French River and move inland toward Lake Nipissing. Crossing the lake, the pilgrimage will paddle along the Mattawa River to the Ottawa River, then down to the St. Lawrence before finishing in the Montreal area at Kahnawake.

It’s been a long and complicated relationship between Canada and its Indigenous peoples since the first Europeans arrived four centuries ago. And it’s quite clear First Nations’ people have not fared as well as the settlers. While the newcomers found wealth, Indigenous nations have become mired in poverty and its corresponding effects. Efforts are being made to correct historic wrongs, perhaps the greatest being the Indian residential schools system that saw young Indigenous people taken from their families and placed in government-funded, church-run schools. The goal of these schools was assimilation into a European culture and cutting the youngsters off from their familial and cultural roots.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015 included 94 Calls to Action, many of which focus on education.

“That’s what we’re tapping into,” said Kelly.

That means sharing in the process with Indigenous peoples.

Canoes used during the pilgrimage

“Our interest as Jesuits is working with Indigenous peoples. We are recognizing from our experiences of colonization, and certainly we had a residential school so we know what those realities were like, and we really believe the step forward in this must be coming to terms with those things,” said Kelly.

The simplicity of the pilgrimage is what makes it so powerful, Kelly believes.

“There’s no agenda, we’re not setting out to at the end have a statement on reconciliation or a process for dialogue. This is about the very fundamentally human practice of how do we better communicate in a space where we’re going to be together exclusively for a month. The informal and the simple are really important ways of getting past the things that structure us.”

Still, the pilgrimage will not be without its share of complexities. There’s the inevitable conflicts within the group — how can there not be in a small group together 24/7 for a month? And there remain trust issues among many Indigenous. While a number of First Nations along the route will be welcoming the pilgrimage, hosting the group overnight, holding celebrations, sharing their customs and accommodating Mass, others are casting a cautious eye toward it.

While they will allow the group to stay on their land, they will not be drawing any attention to the paddlers.

“We’re OK with that, we understand what that looks like,” said Kelly. “They may not be ready for this. We’re just at the start of what moving forward in reconciliation out of the TRC looks like. It’s not like it’s done and everybody’s on the same page. It’s really a work in progress.”

Pilgirms in action

The group is working with KAIROS in reaching out to communities along the way to spread the message of reconciliation. And Kelly is hoping the diverse participants, who come from all walks of life from points across Canada, will take this life-changing experience and “go back to where they’re coming from to share this experience.”

Kelly and the group understand that their pilgrimage is only the starting point in healing a fractured relationship.

“It’s in a single activity like this, being together for a month, figuring out how do you canoe, camp, struggle through challenges, struggle through hard work, fatigue, that’s where you get to know the other.”

It may sound exhausting, yet Kelly takes inspiration from another Jesuit, Pope Francis.

“If you are going to make things happen, the Pope talks about reality is far greater than ideas. Ideas are important, but putting them into practice is critical.”

The group’s progress can be followed at canoepilgrimage.com.

Source: [Catholic Register]





Recent News

December 6, 2019 – Fr. Julien Harvey, SJ, was a great Jesuit intellectual from Quebec. Though he passed away in 1998, his ideas and ways of proceeding — refusing simplification, listening, dialoguing and concrete proposals — have proven to be prophetic.

December 6, 2019 – Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has repeatedly come back to the importance of process and discernment in beginning a shift towards change and the transformation of the Church.

November 30, 2019 – We express our solidarity with the women of Fanm Deside in Haiti.

On November 25, in the early afternoon, Fr. Fernand Jutras, SJ passed away at the Richelieu infirmary. He was in his 78th and in religious life for 59 years. From 1971 to 2016, he carried out different ministries and professional activities in Montreal.

November 29, 2019 – On my way to Rome, I was skeptical and critical. I thought to myself: here is another celebration to swell our ego and justify our helplessness. I was comforted by the idea that I would enjoy as a tourist. But I was surprised!

November 29, 2019 – From November 9 to 14, 2019, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Canada team hosted its simulation exercise "A Journey in Exile" three times in three different locations. The exercise is a role-playing experience that puts participants in the shoes of a refugee.

November 21, 2019 – Even as “a twenty-year-old for the fourth time,” Fr. Michel Lefebvre, SJ, is kept busy either sitting on the Board of Directors or performing marriages and baptisms for former students of the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where he worked for over 45 years. Here are extracts from a moving interview.

view all news

Search news

Publications

Campion's Brag

Relations Mai 2019

Canadian Jesuits



Anishinabe Spiritual Centre
The Anishinabe Spiritual Centre is a place of peace, a beautiful retreat space, a welcoming ...