Pilgrimage is the kind of journeying that marks just this move from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful travel. The difference may be subtle or dramatic; by definition it is life-changing.
The journey of the Magi is a life-changing one. It is one that takes them to a different land, with different customs and people. It proves in many ways to be a dangerous land. In spite of this they leave changed through their experience of the divine.
On the west coast of Canada, off the mainland of British Columbia, there lives an indigenous people who have a history going back some 10,000 to 15,000 years or more. They are known as the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw and their language is Kwakʼwala.
There is a phrase in Kwakʼwala – wila’ mola’ ma’ nux, – which means we are travelling together. It is the understanding that we are on a journey where we need one another and where we can discover new insights into ourselves and others. The Kwakwaka’wakw have survived colonization, residential schools and the banning of their culture, language and traditions. When the Anglican Church came it failed to identify the Creator in this culture, language and tradition. Along with the government of the day the church attempted to destroy all of their beliefs. But the Kwakwaka’wakw are a proud and faith-filled people and many years later have restored their teaching, language and culture. One of the people instrumental in this journey was Chief Frank Nelson whose traditional name was IXULTH TLALADZI TLALILITHLA from the Musgamagw Dzawada̱ʼenux̱w first nation. He took his people on a journey that would bring healing and reconciliation with those who hurt them.
Frank was a survivor of the residential school process. When he went to the Truth and Reconciliation hearings he brought along a little brown suitcase that he had had with him when he entered the school in 1954. He took it with him to the hearing as it allowed, he said, his silenced and wounded child within to cry and ask “why”. The suitcase remained shut, hiding his shame and anger, but, after telling his story he was able to open the case and say: Come out little boy, it’s safe now.
Through tribal journeys which began on the west coast of British Columbia Frank offered journeys for others to find healing in their own culture and tradition. Tribal journeys take place in large ocean-going canoes up and down the coast helping many indigenous people to find healing and restoration as individuals and communities. Ultimately, the journey aids them to take steps to heal the wounds of the past. Frank was affectionately known as the “Father of Tribal Journeys”.
Chief Frank Nelson was able to help many heal the wounds of history. He lived with difference, celebrated diversity, and took us a long way as we sought to build a culture of peace.
As the church re-engaged with the indigenous people through their culture, traditions and language they came into a new relationship with them. They saw this relationship not as an end but as a journey. Some indigenous leaders remained indifferent and angry towards the church. Others accepted the invitation to go on a journey of healing, truth-telling and reconciliation. For the church it was a journey to a different place with a different culture, a different tradition and a different experience of the divine. However, it was and continues to be a journey that is life-changing for those who have the courage to take it. They discover the Creator in a new and different way.
On your journey, who are those who invite you to see yourself differently, to see the world in a new way, and to leave you changed, as you continue on your journey?
Frank Nelson in spite of his pain had a calling to become an Anglican Priest. He never realized that calling. Frank died all too suddenly in 2015. That same year he became the first indigenous person in The Diocese of British Columbia to become a Lay Canon.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Logan McMenamie
Diocese of British Columbia (Diocese of Islands and Inlets)