Pilgrimage passes through North Bay, Mattawa

The project will involve a group of more than 30 Indigenous, Jesuit, English and French Canadian paddlers who will embark on an 850-kilometre canoe pilgrimage.The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage (CCP) will pass through North Bay and Mattawa this summer to shine a light on truth and reconciliation.

The CCP is a project inspired by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the hope of encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue and learning.

The project will involve a group of more than 30 Indigenous, Jesuit, English and French Canadian paddlers who will embark on an 850-kilometre canoe pilgrimage. Participants will range in age from 18 to 67 years old.

“We've been very intentional about making sure that we have a group that's open to this experience of not just canoeing together but hearing about each others' backgrounds, ideas and spirituality and understanding each others' cultures as they are,” said Kevin Kelly, Jesuit and CCP participant.

The group will follow a traditional First Nations canoe trade route that was travelled by early European settlers such as Samuel de Champlain and Jean de Brébeuf, who were welcomed and guided by the Indigenous Peoples of this land.

“We are retracing this historic route on the 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation, but more importantly we are trying to work for reconciliation,” says Erik Sorensen, Jesuit and CPP project manager. “As a member of the Jesuits, a group that had a residential school that played an integral role in colonization efforts by early Europeans, there is a collective healing that I am participating in. And we are changing the way we do things.”

Jesuits and First Nation in Canoe

The 25-day pilgrimage will begin at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Midland (on the shore of Georgian Bay) on July 21 and the journey will end on the St. Lawrence River at the Kahnawake First Nation (close to Montreal) on Aug. 15.

“The term ‘pilgrimage’ is important because it's not just a canoe trip or a canoe experience. The idea of a pilgrimage is that you're intending to go out and experience something that allows you to grow and allows you to be open to whatever is happening and being shaped by that,” said Kelly. “For instance, we're going to be in some of the most beautiful parts of Canada as we're canoeing down and we’ll be spending so many days together that we’ll really get to know one another and understand our different realities and struggles.”

According to Sorenson, the route is also similar to one that was paddled by 24 young Jesuits in 1967.

Jesuits canoeing in the past

“A couple of years ago, we were talking to some older Jesuits who had been around for a long time and they were talking about this canoe trip they did in 1967 for the centennial celebration of Canada and Expo '67. So that’s really where our idea for the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage came from because we thought that 50 years later we should redo their trip but have it focus on a current issue in Canada today – our focus being the truth and reconciliation commission,” said Sorenson.

Along the way, the CCP will be making several pit-stops at various communities, including stops in North Bay July 31 and Mattawa Aug. 2.

All of the paddlers share the same passion and are working towards the same goal – all desiring to travel together on a path of healing and friendship.

“I am hoping to learn a lot about the cultures that are going to be there,” said Andrew Starblanket, of Saskatchewan’s Starblanket First Nation, in a press release. “I guarantee that I’m going to learn a lot about myself and others.”

Sorenson expressed that the pilgrimage will provide them with the purest opportunity to immerse themselves in each others’ customs and traditions. Through this immersion, the goal is to foster deep respect, trust, dialogue and friendship – the building blocks for reconciliation.

For more information about the CCP, and to donate to support their efforts, visit their website.

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