As it did more than 150 years ago, the Anglican Church is entering the traditional territory of Vancouver Island’s First Nations.
This time, it’s asking permission.
Logan McMenamie, Anglican Bishop for the Diocese of Vancouver Island, met with local First Nations leaders last weekend as part of a sacred journey to acknowledge the church’s role in colonial history and to emphasize its commitment to the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“We came here as Anglicans as a colonial church, with colonial power,” McMenamie said as he strode south on Highway 19A between Fanny Bay and Bowser on Friday afternoon. “Sad to say, we were involved in residential schools. There’s a whole journey of truth-telling and healing and reconciliation that needs to happen here.”
A few minutes later, McMenamie and several followers crossed into the traditional territory of the Kwalikum First Nation, where they were greeted by Kwalikum Chief Michael Recalma.
After formally introducing himself, McMenamie offered repentance for the church’s approach to its initial arrival here, as colonists who claimed ownership of the land and dominion over its indigenous people.
“We failed to see the Creator in the land, the sea and the sky,” he said. “We failed to see the Creator in your traditional teachings, in your language and in your culture. Thank you for agreeing to meet us as we walk into your territory. And I want to ask on behalf of the Anglicans who live here in your traditional lands, for permission to enter your lands. And I want to ask for your permission to continue to live on this land with you and learn from you, from your teachings, your traditions and your language.
“I really believe that in doing so we will become a better people and a better church.”
Recalma, wearing a traditional woven-cedar hat as he stood beside the highway facing the bishop, nodded.
“Logan, my name is Michael Recalma, Chief of the Qualicum First Nation,” he said. “I’d like to welcome you to our land. Good luck on your quest, and thank you for your kind words.
“Yes, you may stay. And you may cross.”
McMenamie’s journey began
March 6 with a feast and festival in Alert Bay, home of the ‘Namgis First Nation and former site of St. Michael’s Residential Indian School, which was razed last March. Timed to coincide with the Christian holy season of Lent, it is scheduled to end on Easter Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria.
The bishop has been joined on his sacred journey by various members of the Anglican congregation as he passes through their area, garbed in a bright orange jacket and comfortable running shoes, carrying a gnarled wooden walking stick and waving a gloved hand at passing vehicles.
“After praying about it and talking to some advisors and (church) elders I go to, we came up with the idea that what we really needed to do was re-enter the land, and this time recognize that we are meeting the creator here in these lands,” he said. “And the person who should take that vision quest on behalf of the diocese is me, as the ‘chief’.”
While the journey is symbolic, McMenamie said, it is but a step in the church’s commitment to upholding its responsibilities under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
“Those are not recommendations; those are calls to action,” he said. “There’s a whole group that apply to the government and Canadians as a whole, and there’s a whole group that applies to faith communities. We have committed ourselves to be involved in that.”
After his roadside meeting with Recalma, McMenamie continued south to stop in at St. Mark’s Church in Qualicum Beach. On Saturday, he walked to Coombs, then went on to St. Anne’s and St. Edmunds Church and hall in Parksville, where a Dinner for Reconciliation was held with members of the Qualicum and Nanoose First Nations.
“It’s mostly our Anglican folks, but we’re also welcoming the First Nations people to our ‘Big House,’ so to speak,” said Rev. Andrew Twiddy.
On Sunday, McMenamie resumed his journey with a walk to Nanoose Bay before continuing on toward the final destination in Victoria.
The bishop said he will be returning at a later date to meet with several nations that were missed on this trip because they could not be accessed by foot or could not fit into the schedule, including the Nuu-chah-nulth of the west coast, the Dzawada’enuxw of Kingcome Inlet and the Kwakiutl, Quatsino and Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw nations near Port Hardy.
“The chiefs will say to me, ‘That’s great that you’re walking; what are you going to do after you walk?’ And that’s a great question. They want to know, are we going to be around after this, and are we going to be involved in the calls to action of the TRC?
“This is not just to offer an apology and say it’s over.”
“Because an apology is a very small step in a journey towards reconciliation. As is this walk, just a small step on a journey toward reconciliation.”