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).
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 mother, 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.
The 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
Willard Metzger, Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada, throws the invitation doors wide-open for anyone to join the Pilgrimage…
“It is exciting to see this Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights take place. It is both exciting and timely, more accurately urgent. This is a pilgrimage for the heart of Canada.”
-Mark MacDonald, Indigenous Anglican Bishop
The Student Christian Movement of Canada (SCM) says it is excited and humbled by the opportunity to join the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights in support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In an email, Peter Haresnape, National Coordinator, writes, “We seek to learn, to act in solidarity, and to witness to the need for action following the direction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.”
Haresnape says SCM members will be encouraged to consider how they can participate – by walking for part of the Pilgrimage, supporting the walkers, or learning more about the issues and sharing that knowledge in their own context.
SMC believes that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #48, addressed to churches and faith communities, “… requires us to explore, understand, and animate UNDRIP” and calls on Christians to listen carefully, study diligently, work patiently, and act contemplatively.
“The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights is an important way to engage,” says Haresnape.
The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights is honoured to have a Circle of Friends comprising Indigenous and Settler peoples to help us discern how to go about this journey in a good way. Thanks to each one for committing to this effort.
Houses. Toilets. Schools. These are basic human rights to which Canadians feel entitled – and which many vulnerable and disenfranchised Indigenous peoples do not have.
Houses, toilets, schools could also be a translation for the much longer title “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” or UNDRIP. Indigenous leader Leah Gazan says UNDRIP is really just the floor for human rights. The activist, policy analyst, and educator at the University of Winnipeg says UNDRIP outlines “the minimum human rights to be healthy.”
After years of objector status to UNDRIP, the Canadian government accepted the Declaration in the spring of 2016 to a standing ovation when Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett made the announcement at the UN.
But words are one thing; implementation is another. Currently in play is the proposed Bill C-262, an act that would ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP.
To keep the church focused on this justice issue, Steve Heinrichs, student intern Erin Froese, and a small circle of diverse Indigenous and settler volunteers are organizing a Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights. The 600 km walk from Kitchener to Ottawa is an attempt to “…engage churches in a series of conversations about UNDRIP, explore why it matters, the hope it offers, and how we can live into it” says Heinrichs, Director of Indigenous Relations for MC Canada. Indigenous Peoples Solidarity of Christian Peacemaker Teams is co-planning the event.
Erin Froese, 21, is a third year environmental studies student at Canadian Mennonite University. She is helping organize the pilgrimage as part of an independent studies project. The work has special meaning for her: Ike Froese, her late grandfather, was a predecessor to Heinrichs in his work with Indigenous peoples. Erin, who spent recent summers as staff at Camps with Meaning was surprised to learn that one of its sites, Camp Koinonia, is situated on crown land that is sacred to the Dakota peoples.
Sue Klassen, 56, is already in training for the April 23 – May 14 journey. She appreciates the sacred nature of the term “pilgrimage.” The former math and computer science teacher now does trauma and resilience training. At the end of a three-day long volunteer training a correctional facility, Klassen walked home in sleeting rain for three hours. She says her participation in the pilgrimage is a logical response given her 17 year interest in restorative justice. She is also in spiritual training for the journey. “I don’t want to say, ‘those people back in history did these horrible things’” to Indigenous people, she says, acknowledging the wrongs of residential schools and cultural genocide dating back generations. “Where would I have been at Jesus crucifixion? I don’t know. Would I have been yelling ‘Crucify him? Would I have been calling residential school students savages?”
So far, participants committed to the intentionally ecumenical pilgrimage range in age from 12 to 85. A support vehicle will accompany walkers who need a rest or a water refill. Walkers will spend nights in church basements along the way, and local communities will be invited to attend conversation circles enroute. The journey will conclude with a celebration feast in Ottawa, but not before walkers stop at Parliament Hill to advocate for Bill C-262. Heinrichs is hoping for 30-50 core walkers committed to the 600 km distance. Casual walkers can join any leg of the trip and must supply their own food and drink. Those joining for more than one day need to register so that accommodations can be planned and prepared. All participants are responsible for traveling to and from the start and end points. “It’s a commitment, for sure,” says Heinrichs, “but I’m confident it will make a tremendous impact.”
Leah Gazan will join the walk for the entire duration. Her commitment required serious juggling of her schedule and the cancellation of a previously planned speaking event. “We are living in a time where there is a lot of hope – but it can also go the other way,” she says. Quoting Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, she says she’s joining the pilgrimage because, “This is not about us and them. This is about how we are going to work together to rediscover a better future together.”
Support the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights
The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights began with a 600 km walk from Kitchener to Ottawa in support of the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Comprised mostly of Christians, our hope was to embody a tangible response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, specifically Call #48 which summons all churches to learn about the Declaration, facilitate public dialogue around it, and embrace its minimum standards.
The first part of the Pilgrimage is done. But the Pilgrimage is far from over. Walkers and church communities continue to raise awareness of the Declaration and mobilize on behalf of Bill C-262 (a private members bill that would ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the Declaration).
We invite you to join in the movement:
- Join the Fast.
- Sign the petition.
- Visit or Write or Call your Member of Parliament.
- Organize a teach-in on the Declaration.
- Create a local one-day walk in support of Bill C-262.
- Follow the Pilgrimage’s work via Facebook and Instagram.
- Offer words of encouragement.
- Give a donation to support and build the movement.
The Pilgrimage Planning Team
Chuck Wright, Erin Froese, Kathy Moorhead Thiessen, Steve Heinrichs