Seven days on the Bruce Trail for Indigenous Rights

In September 2021, for the fifth year in a row, the Canada Camino started a week-long hike across the Bruce Trail from Mono Mills heading North to Collingwood to raise money for Indigenous sovereignty and global food security. Organized by Aangen and Heart Space, a group of six hikers spent seven days learning about the land, respecting the ancestors who took care of it for time immemorial, and connecting to the spirit of the forest. 

Two of the hikers, Gurbeen Bhasin and Shira Taylor, shared some of their experience with us. 

According to Gurbeen and Shira, each morning on the trail began with a wellness practice: sage brushing and a meditation to connect to the original peoples of the land. The hikers would begin their days in silence in order to reflect on why they were there, who they were there for, and to be more attuned to the spirit of the land and water around them. Sometimes they would hike the first hour or even two in complete silence. 

“We learned as much as we possibly could about how to do this in integrity with the land and the water that we were honouring with this process” says Gurbeen, founder and executive director of Aangen.

Each body of water they came across was offered songs, prayers, or tobacco. For the hikers, the waterways were a reminder to go with the flow, which became one of the themes of the trip. Shira, a doctor and spiritual healer, would take her shoes off and submerge her feet and ankles into every waterway they passed to feel the healing of the water. The other team members shuddered at the thought of the cold September Waters — but the spirit of the water had other ideas for them. One morning after a particularly fierce downpour of rain the trail was flooded and the hikers had no choice but to take their shoes off and plunge knee deep into the cold water. 

The physical energy and skill it took to hike the trail was challenging for everyone and Gurbeen found herself channeling strength from the trees, the land and the water around her. Feeling the strength of the trees rooting deep into the Earth and ferocity of the waters around them, kept her going – along with the support from her teammates and even those not on the trail with them. Along the way, they shared their journey on Instagram; support from the public was another way for Gurbeen to draw strength from the outside in. 

The motivation to stand up and hike for Indigenous sovereignty and rights was easy to come by for the team. “This year was so enlightening and sad. It’s so important that the residential schools and the atrocities and grief around them is coming to light. We couldn’t stand by and not do anything” Gurbeen says. The team overall expressed their belief that we are at a place in our communities where we need to be educating ourselves and those around us to understand the depth of the truth about colonialism before there can be any reconciliation. Gurbeen continues, “We can’t move towards truth and reconciliation until we know the truth and we want to be well informed about that.”

The week spent on the Bruce Trail was an expression of their support for Indigeneous folks, for Land Back and for Indigenous stewardship of the land. Raising funds is their tangible offering to lift up the Heiltsuk Nation in their legal case which stands to set a new precedent for Aboriginal title. 

At the end of the seven day hike, Shira reflected back on the experience. She would like to encourage folks to get out and be on the land, nourish their souls and think about what they can get back. 

Says Shira, “When we feel the Earth’s presence so strongly we remember who we are and how to support her back.” Connecting to the land also connects us to spirit, to culture, and to the ancestors who cared for the land and water. Within that feeling there is opportunity to understand the power and need for Indigenous sovereignty.

The Bruce Trail hikers took that opportunity and showed their solidarity by raising over $6000 for the Heiltsuk Nation. 

Donate to support the Heiltsuk Nation here.

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