LANGLEY—For the third year in a row, church-goers in the Fraser Valley have stepped out onto the streets to show First Nations people they are serious about reconciliation.
“There’s a need for repentance,” said Anglican pastor Paul Guiton, one of about 100 people who participated in a 35-kilometre Walk for Reconciliation May 25-27.
The walk began with an opening ceremony in Fort Langley and ended at the site of the nearest residential school, the ruins of St. Mary’s at Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission.
“The way that that repentance plays out, for now, is the willingness to put yourself out and to be uncomfortable. The walk is very symbolic of being uncomfortable, I can tell you! Your feet hurt at the end of it,” said Guiton.
This was the third time this Walk for Reconciliation was held in the Fraser Valley, a response to one of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“There is a movement towards reconciliation coming out from the recommendations of the TRC,” said Guiton. “The people that I see doing the most work in that area are the Indigenous people. That’s not right. It’s the settlers that need to be educated.”
He said part of the walk had to be skipped because of Fraser River flooding, but in past years attendees have walked all or part of the 35-kilometre stretch – whatever their abilities and schedules would allow.
Guiton said it was important for him to wear his clerical collar.
“For some people, that’s a little bit strange and there’s a concern that it ends up victimizing those who suffered at the hands of the church,” he said.
“The reason I do it is to remind myself is that I am a part of, and as a priest a representative of, an organization which was largely responsible for some of the residential schools and was certainly complicit in operating them. It’s a recognition that the organization I’m proud to belong to can also make awful mistakes. There’s a huge sense of humility that goes with that.”
The walk was sponsored by Anglican, Christian Reformed, Mennonite, and United churches in Langley, but all were welcome to attend. Among them was Squamish First Nations member and Catholic Deacon Rennie Nahanee.
“This walk is probably the best way to start to show the Indigenous people in the Fraser Valley that people do care,” said Deacon Nahanee.
He was moved by the testimonies of two residential school survivors from the Katzie First Nation who spoke during the closing ceremony in Mission.
“I know it’s hard for people who have been abused to find reconciliation,” he said. “But, you know they survived and have families and grandchildren. I’m very happy for them, that they have survived” and had the courage to speak, he said.
He hopes to hear more stories of hope and healing, of “finding a normal life, whatever that may be,” among residential school survivors.
He also hopes more Catholics will participate in reconciliation efforts like this one in the future.
“I think we should support our brothers and sisters and the work they are doing for reconciliation,” he said. “I think a little more Catholic representation showing some ecumenical brotherhood would have been good.”
This event is distinct from Vancouver’s Walk for Reconciliation in 2017, which attracted thousands of people to Strathcona Park.