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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

Praying for a miracle

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower.
The Globe and Mail, November 10, 2001

Part 1 of 8: 'There has to be a reason this is happening''


Cape Breton There is nothing in the threatening Alberta sky that can stop the procession of a thousand Catholics to the shores of Lac Ste. Anne, to where the sacred waters speak of great buffalo hunts, greater missionary hopes, oppression and now a peculiar resurrection.

Under thunderclouds and northerly winds, the worshippers are led by Dene pilgrims singing praise to Jesus Christ to a chant their ancestors used well before He was born. A clutch of Cree worshippers follows, bearing an outstretched Bible and a towering crucifix that features a brown-skinned Christ wearing buckskin and braids.

Behind them, there are Blackfoot proudly displaying drums and peace pipes that once were declared to be the tools of Satan. Later, a group will sing Rock of Ages in Ojibway.


"There has to be a reason this is happening. Myself, I have a tremendous faith in people."
Rev. Camille Piché

Only at the end, almost as an afterthought, does a handful of priests appear. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have come to the lake, to the largest native gathering in Canada, just as their predecessors did in the 19th century.

But this year, the aging fathers are here not to preach to the pilgrims so much as to seek their forgiveness. More than a century after it began, the annual festival of Ste. Anne - mother of the Virgin Mary, and to many natives the true grandmother spirit of their tradition - has become the embodiment of the Catholic Church's deep racial troubles and a symbol of its new hope among aboriginal people.

With 40,000 pilgrims, almost all of them native, gathering at Lac Ste. Anne, west of Edmonton, the same missionary order that stands accused of horrible abuses and has fallen into a serious decline believes that it still has a special place in Indian, Métis and Inuit communities.

At the same time, the five-day festival is moving beyond being a sheer display of faith. Natives with years of experience in business have been given charge of the event, held in July, and turned around its finances. They are also assuming responsibility for the 14-hectare lakeside site, one of the few remaining Oblate properties in the West.

But the transition is about much more than management.

As the pilgrims take control from the white-haired Oblates - many of them European missionaries who came to the Far North in the 1930s - they hope that doing so will heal the wounds of their racial divide. They could even save from bankruptcy the very order that once tried to save them from something else.

"There has to be a reason this is happening," says Rev. Camille Piché, an Oblate leader who at 63 has given his entire adult life to Indian communities in the North. "Myself, I have a tremendous faith in people."

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 8):


Photo Essay
Cross purposes


1. 'There has to be a reason this is happening'
Begging forgiveness from the pilgrims rather than preaching to them

2. Taking charge of the Pilgrimage
'We want to return to what has been here for hundreds of years and protect this site as a sacred site, a healing site'

3. 'This place is for all people'
Expanding the congregation

4. The healing waters
'I feel the power here. I feel the spirituality. You can't deny something that has helped people find goodness'

5. Begging forgiveness
Seeing the positive side of residential schools

6. Easing the marriage of cultures
Oblates preserve native languages and traditions by recording them

7. 'Our belief is there's no such thing as hell'
Battle of faith in residential schools
8. 'People use it [the festival] as a big social gathering'
Making the pilgrimage pious again


 
 

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