PFIR Walker Profile: Henry Neufeld

Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights in support of UNDRIP

by Deborah Froese
WINNIPEG, Man. —Henry Neufeld is joining more than 50 other walkers in the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights. From April 23 to May 14, participants will cover the 600k stretch between Kitchener and Ottawa, Ont. in support of the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

man with flat drum and a stick
Henry Neufeld plays his drum and sings. Photo by Gerald Neufeld

The walk will be a challenge, but perhaps especially so for Neufeld. He’s 87 years old and he is taking along his drum.

“I can’t go without my drum,” he says.

Neufeld’s passion for drumming and singing Christian faith songs in English and Ojibway is deeply rooted in his commitment to God and to Indigenous peoples. As Mennonite Church Canada workers, he and his late wife Elna lived in Indigenous communities for almost 20 years, developing friendships that continue today.

Continue reading “PFIR Walker Profile: Henry Neufeld”

Registration Update

We’re excited to report that there are over 50 people registered to walk all or part of the Pilgrimage!

The way the numbers and dates synch up means than there will be at least 30 walkers at all times. These numbers are current as of the registration deadline of March 31. The age range is 9 months to 87 years old, with the most distant walkers coming from B.C. and Virginia, USA.

Walkers are still warmly welcomed to join in for a section of the journey, even if it’s just for a few hours or a day. Our desire is to welcome as many walkers as possible. However, after the registration deadline of March 31, we cannot offer food and accommodations, as we are working with limited space in certain host communities. You will need to find your own travel to connect up with us, and to make your own way home. See the map.

Will Justice Roll?

The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights is on a learning journey to engage the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) so that we can actually live into it. To help churches do this, the Indigenous Rights program of KAIROS Canada has developed the “Let Justice Roll” campaign to help churches understand and advocate for justice for Indigenous peoples. Thank you, KAIROS, for your work on behalf of all of us.

Walker interview with Henry Neufeld and Kathleen Vitt

To say that Henry Neufeld (87) and Kathleen Vitt (29) are in inspiration would be an understatement. Both Henry and Kathleen will be walking hundreds of kilometres on the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights.

Henry has been a teacher and church worker among Indigenous people in central and northern Manitoba going back to the 1952. Henry is rare among white settlers in that he is fluent in Ojibwe.

Kathleen Vitt is 29 years old. She is an International Studies graduate from Canadian Mennonite University, has served with MCC’s SALT program in Bolivia, and has worked with Indigenous youth in Winnipeg. Kathleen, who carries a Métis and a Mennonite spiritual heritage, will take a week of her holidays to join the walk.

You can listen to an interview with Kathleen and Henry at Church Matters.

The Learning Zone

To practice Indigenous-Settler reconciliation, it means we must by necessity move out of our Comfort Zone and into a Learning Zone. But if we creep into the Panic Zone, learning is shut down by fear.

The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights is an effort to cultivate a Learning Zone.

Thanks to MCC for helping us understand more about the Learning Zone – that place of revelation, new insight, and right relationships.

Early March Update!

  • We’ve updated the FAQ for walkers with some new info related to costs, and the theology behind the Pilgrimage.
  • We’re delighted to report that there are already 15 walkers registered!
  • Coming soon: A podcast interview and conversation with two walkers – one of whom is 85 years old!

We’re all in this together…

We’re all in this together, but if you are unable to join the Pilgrimage, fear not! There are other ways you can participate. If there are walkers who could not otherwise afford to join, we want to help them financially. We are also planning to produce a short documentary film for teaching and learning at events to bring awareness of UNDRIP to folks who are unaware of the history of denial and oppression of Indigenous folks. Also welcome are your prayers and fasting. Pray that that there would be a great healing of relationships among Indigenous and settler peoples on the land called Turtle Island (Canada).

Walker Profile: Kandace Boos

Winnipeg, Man./Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. — Nine month old Junia has just become the youngest participant to join the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights, a 600 km walk through from Kitchener-Waterloo to Ottawa from April 23-May 14.

Her motherKandace Boos, Kandace Boos, 28, will be putting in the grunt work of carrying young Junia on her back, alongside her task of documenting the walk in art. Boos is an urban sketch artist, part of a global community of artists that practice drawing in cities, towns and villages they live in or travel to.

As a “core walker” in the Pilgrimage (those who plan to walk the entire distance), she will help to raise awareness of UNDRIP – the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – in churches, teach-ins, and conversation circles along the way.

The mother of two, Boos’ interest in peace and justice was piqued when she and her husband Mike began attending Sterling Mennonite Church about four years ago. Last year she participated in faith formation classes focusing on Indigenous relations, absorbing as much as she could and reading up on Indigenous land rights issues in her spare time. Recently she joined the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Working Group at her church. “Land rights apply to my church and my home,” she said in a Skype interview, adding that she lives right across the street from Sterling MC.

Drawing of male modelThe graduate of BealART school in London, Ont., and Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener is an active leader of worship arts at Sterling. Recently she collaborated with Emma Smith, an Anishinaabe artist from Walpole Island, on a live art creation during a worship service at her church. “One of the TRC recommendations is for collaborative art between settlers and Indigenous peoples,” she said. The two have developed a growing friendship.

Boos wants to participate in the Pilgrimage because there is so much negativity in the news about minorities and women’s roles in society. “Part of why I am taking Junia on this pilgrimage is to show her that we can do very hard things, and that the voices and presence of women, even a baby girl and her mother, mean something… That we can take on this challenge that many men would never do, to use the white privilege in our presence in Ottawa to amplify the voices of those not as recognized in white, urban society.”

Boos has been struggling with severe post-partum depression, and is deeply grateful for all the supports – including her church – that are in place for those with mental health struggles. “If my brain had been in the body of an Aboriginal women, I would not have survived. I am walking for every aboriginal mother without access to solid prenatal care and post-partum support, every foster kid who doesn’t believe life will get better, and for every baby girl growing up with a depressed mother unable to get help.”

Her passion for peace and justice ministry has been growing since joining a Mennonite church. “I’m constantly surprised by the focus on peace and justice [at my church]. It’s a closer form of evangelism to what I understand Jesus would do. It’s a practice and a discipline that will make a difference. I expect to be a different person after the walk. That’s exhilarating!” she said. She hopes to create an art exhibition of her work and writings, as well as that of other artists she hopes to encounter on the pilgrimage.

Boos is clearly excited and looking forward to meeting others on the walk, and extends an invitation: “Anyone else that’s going on the pilgrimage and is artistically inclined, please bring your stuff!” she said.

Photo 1 cutline: Junia, 7 months, and her mother, Kandace Boos, plan to walk the 600 km Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights. – photo supplied

Photo 2 cutline: A 30 min drawing of a male model. Boos said,”I was trying to capture a sense of peace, as well as the very technically demanding foreshortened angle. Its a style I hope to use in portraiture of each core walker over the course of the Pilgrimage. – photo supplied