Bishop Logan McMenamie is taking his church on a journey of repentance, and he laced up his hiking boots to do it. On Easter Sunday, McMenamie, the Anglican bishop for the diocese covering Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and Kingcome Inlet, finished a 480-kilometre walk from Alert Bay to Victoria. His goal was to begin creating a better relationship between the church and First Nations, in part by apologizing for the church’s actions and attitudes.
The connection between a physical journey and a spiritual one is ancient. The Camino de Santiago, from southwestern France to the northwestern tip of Spain, is one of the most famous pilgrimages. McMenamie’s was not as long, nor as famous, but it was a demonstration of his desire for healing.
The bishop prepared for his journey by asking permission of the chiefs and elders through whose lands he would pass.
“Many asked me what I was going to do after the walk,” he said. “It was a journey of humility and repentance, but the challenge was always there. Are you going to be around later? Are you going to be with us?”
That’s the important part, and McMenamie says he will be there.
The elders’ questions remind us there is much more to reconciliation than apology. It goes beyond any church, to governments and the rest of Canadian society.
Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe comedian and writer, holds workshops across the country on reconciliation, and he says often there is too little substance behind the words.
For non-aboriginal people, he says, reconciliation tends to mean understanding and kindness. But aboriginal people he talks to are looking for something more concrete.
“I would argue that before reconciliation, we really need to look at decolonization,” he told a radio interviewer. “Decolonization starts with land. It starts with the question of land.
“Do indigenous people have the ability to live freely on and with relationship to the land, as we did prior to confederation? And the answer right now is no.”
The systemic change that McMahon talks about is beyond the power of the Anglican church, but McMenamie’s commitment to an improved relationship is an opportunity for people in the church and outside it to hear the concerns McMahon describes.
If there is one conversation going on among non-aboriginal people and a different one going on in First Nations communities, we need places where the two discussions come together. The relationship McMenamie talks about could be one such place.
McMenamie said: “One of the things we said is: ‘We’re here to listen to you and learn from your culture, your language and your tradition. We didn’t do that when we first arrived as a colonial church and it’s time for us to do that now.’ ”
There is much more to hear now than when Europeans arrived, and a lot of it is painful: residential schools, destruction of a way of life, racism, alienation of land, unfulfilled treaties. As McMahon suggests, it will take more than empathy to achieve true reconciliation.