Last weekend I walked part of the Edmonton Camino, a five-day walk through the city’s North Saskatchewan River valley, from Devon (where the trail is still unfinished) to Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The Cree have a name for this river, Kisiskâciwanisîpiy or Swift Flowing River and the trails that accompany it, Amisko Wacîw Mêskanaw, meaning Beaver Hill Road. Beaver Hill Fort being the original name for Edmonton. At more than 160 kilometres of public trails, Edmonton has the longest continuous river trail system of any city in North America.
What started in 2018 as an annual event has branched out to include more than one Camino walk through the river valley (often near a change of seasons) and frequent Camino ravine walks. The Camino Edmonton is done in 15 or 20 kilometre chunks. I did the first day this year.
What I look forward to on these gatherings is the walking, the being in nature, but also the conversations. Conversations with people I’ve never met or friends I haven’t seen in a while or some people I only meet up with on the Camino. For me, it’s a celebration of the season.
As pilgrims on this river Camino, we talk about our lives and the wider world. Our relationships, our work, our families, our health. The wildfires this year that have displaced so many, the floods halfway around the world or across the country. And yes, climate change; how each of us is coping or not. The conversation flows naturally as part of the pilgrim experience. None of it is scripted. We speak of things we were grateful for too—the clear smoke-free day before us, the beauty and the sounds as we pass through boreal forest and near the river. The land is talking too, although I’m not sure I am always listening as well as I could.
Last September, just before that equinox, I had an encounter with a Cree elder in my neighbourhood. I was walking to the farmer’s market and he lay stranded on a City roadworks lot with a bad leg. He introduced himself as Henry Bosineau from Saddle Lake and he needed help. He told me he had slept on a bench in the nearby school yard that night and someone had stolen his cane. He had had to improvise. “I had to break a branch off a tree!” He held it up for me to see, shaking it. “The poor tree!” he said several times. He was truly mortified and furious. I was astonished and moved. He needed a ride to a local shelter. They would have an extra cane for him to use. I called the Crisis Diversion team for him and he was soon on his way.
I pondered Mr. Bosineau’s feelings for the tree and my own astonishment for a very long time. I know I wouldn’t have hesitated to pluck a dead branch off a tree whether I needed to make a splint or start a fire. Even though in my Western mind I “know” a tree (or a branch) is never truly “dead.” Even when returned to the soil. There are always things living, sheltering and feeding off it, birds, insects and micro organisms. But Mr. Bosineau’s wisdom went deeper than “mind,” to something at the level of spirit. An Indigenous way of knowing. What if I approached a tree as a person, as one of my “relations” as Indigenous people like to say?
As we celebrate National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada this weekend, I’m reminded that righting our relationship with Indigenous peoples also requires righting our relationship with the land. I think there is hope in being together walking, together talking; in being together on the journey. If we don’t isolate. Whether it is on the big Camino or the smaller forays in our neigbhourhoods, we can in some small way begin to mend our lost connections: this rupture with the river, with the forest, with each other.
Through it all–wildfires, floods, droughts–I believe if we listen, we will find our way.