Anglican Bishop Gordon Beardy and a score of other Native people from the Diocese of Keewatin ended a 6,500-kilometre Sacred Walk for Healing on Parliament Hill Oct. 8 with a call for greater understanding and forgiveness between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.
At a reception shortly after the group’s arrival in Ottawa, Bishop Beardy, 48, held the hand of Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart and said, “I came all this way to take your hand because of the announcement you made – and I know it’s just a start – that building a house takes time, burning it down takes only a few seconds.”
Two weeks earlier, Bishop Beardy was among Native leaders who shook the hand of South African President Nelson Mandela during his visit to Toronto. After that meeting at SkyDome, Bishop Beardy said, “It was very awesome to shake the hand of a man who is a hero to the world.”
Bishop Beardy said he gave the president a gift of two pairs of moose-hide moccasins. Asked what he said when he shook Mr. Mandela’s hand, he replied, “I didn’t say too much. I just felt the presence of a great man. You don’t want to spoil it by saying something.”
Bishop Beardy said he admires Mr. Mandela because he suffered so much pain, yet isn’t angry or bitter.
“He felt oppression and yet he turned it into something positive … I think he’s a man who gives his life for the people.
“He reminds us we will always struggle against injustice and oppression. And when it happens, we can’t sit back and let it happen.”
In January, Ms. Stewart acknowledged the government’s role in administering the approximately 80 residential schools operated by the major churches in Canada. Hundreds of former students have come forward in recent years with horrific stories of sexual and physical abuse at the schools.
Ms. Stewart also announced a $350-million healing fund for abuse victims as part of the government’s first response to the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, released a year earlier. Bishop Beardy, who says he was sexually and physically abused at a church-run residential school in Kenora, Ont., launched the healing walk in his diocese in March 1997.
The group logged 3,000 kilometres before ending the first leg of the journey in a remote Cree community in Manitoba. The 1998 part of the trek to Ottawa began in northwestern Ontario Aug. 3.
During the meeting with Ms. Stewart, the bishop said that anger was all he could feel following the abuse he received in the residential school. “I wanted everyone to pay for what was done to me. I was violated.”
But he learned later in life “if you let anger, bitterness or hate lead you, you will come to a dead-end road.”
Bishop Beardy said he could not find peace within himself until he learned to forgive those who had abused him. “I don’t want my non-aboriginal friends to feel guilty because of what happened in residential schools,” he said.
“Certain individuals violated the trust that was given to them. It’s time to say, `Yes, this happened,’ but to begin to turn it around.”
Ms. Stewart lauded Bishop Beardy, calling his walk a “tremendous achievement and an important undertaking.” The bishop had found a way to “help us break the silence.” His strength in completing the journey “has allowed us another entry point into this very black mark in our history together.”
She also thanked him for having the courage to recognize that “we have to break the cycle (of abuse) and, secondly, to do it in a very peaceful way, in a way that is reflective of First Nations’ tradition – not to show anger, not to show frustrations, not to show pessimism and hopelessness, but the strength that says `we can break through it.'”
The bishop said forgiveness was crucial. “Before I could forgive, it was like running against a 120-mph wind. I couldn’ t find peace.”
Bishop Beardy was ordained to the priesthood in 1989 and installed as the bishop of Keewatin in 1996.
“There is always a way to break that cycle of abuse,” he said. “But when we remain in that cycle of anger, resentment and bitterness, the next generation picks it up.”
As well as raising public awareness, the Sacred Walk was aimed at collecting funds for healing initiatives and to “create an awareness within the Anglican Church and within other churches that they have a responsibility to address the hurt inflicted by churches on aboriginal people.”
The bishop said he is unsure how much money the walk has raised in the last few months.