A group of church leaders, parishioners, and Indigenous people has completed a 600-kilometre trek from Kitchener to Ottawa to pressure the federal government to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The "Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights" was organized by Mennonite Church Canada and the organization Christian Peacemaker Teams. It left from Kitchener, Ont., on April 22 and officially concludes Saturday with a rally at the Human Rights Monument in downtown Ottawa.
"Churches were so involved in much of the hurt of residential schools and settlement work and all kinds of things that I think it's time for us to make reparations, and to advocate for our Indigenous brothers and sisters," said walker Kandace Boos, a parishioner at Sterling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener, where the pilgrimage began.
Organizers were prompted to undertake the trek by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, which highlight the role of the church in facilitating reconciliation and adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, also known as UNDRIP.
'Walk the talk'
"I identify as a Christian, and my heritage, my faith was instrumental in much of the pain that happened with the residential schools. And so I'm responding to the call of TRC call to action 48 — of calling faith groups and church groups to get out and walk the talk," Kathy Moorhead Thiessen of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The walkers, whose numbers grew to about 40 people by the time they reached the outskirts of Ottawa, are urging the federal government to pass Bill C-262, a private member's bill tabled by NDP MP Romeo Saganash last year that calls on Canada to adopt and implement UNDRIP.
"It's great to see people come together to support the full adoption and implementation of UNDRIP and Bill C-262," said Leah Gazan, a Lakota university instructor and activist who came from Winnipeg for the walk. She's worked closely with Saganash to promote the bill.
"As somebody who's been involved for a long time, it's nice to be walking with people, instead of being on the outskirts. It doesn't feel so lonely anymore," she added.
'We're dragging our feet'
Abigail Heinrichs, an 11-year-old girl also from Winnipeg, agrees. "I'm an Indigenous person, and Indigenous people should have rights like everyone else," she said. "In the future it would affect me so I have equal rights if it was adopted and implemented."
Judith Brown, who's from Ottawa and has walked the whole route with the group, says it's been a "long" but "fabulous" walk, and she believes it's time for the government to seriously consider their message.
"I think it's really time to adopt this declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. We've taken a long time. We're dragging our feet," she said.
The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights wraps up with a rally Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street in Ottawa.