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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  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 4 of 8: The healing waters

Lac St. Anne locator The waters of Lac Ste. Anne are said to perform miracles, which may explain why so many natives like Pat Batoche come, bearing the scars of drugs, illness or violence.

Batoche is preparing to carry a cross into one service, hoping it will help her 29-year-old son, who was bludgeoned in the head by a hammer-wielding gang in Edmonton. Another native woman, Gladys Malcolm, comes every year from Manitoba to beg Jesus to save the soul of her daughter, who committed suicide in 1989. A priest told her that, because the girl took her own life, her spirit will never rest.

"I feel the power here. I feel the spirituality. You can't deny something that has helped people find goodness."
Cynthia Desjarlais

But in the crowded campground that stretches from the shrine across a farm field, there is also much to sing about, at nightly reunions and community feasts where the music and food seem unending.

Cynthia Desjarlais, a 24-year-old Ojibwa woman from Sandy Bay, Man., compares the pilgrimage to her preferred summertime ritual, the "Classic Rock Weekend" in Minnedosa. The self-styled "party baby" who grew up on alcohol, drugs, men and violence has come to Lac Ste. Anne for the first time with her parents, both graduates of residential schools, because she has seen how it touched their souls and hopes it can reach hers.

Active in native politics, Desjarlais grew up to distrust the church and says she can't explain the power her parents discovered here. She can't deny it either. "It's one thing I'm very, very confused about, is why I am here," she says. "But I feel the power here. I feel the spirituality. You can't deny something that has helped people find goodness."

The struggle for goodness has defined the Oblates' work ever since they came to North America in 1841.

The early missionaries believed they had been called to help aboriginal people prepare for the coming onslaught of Western culture. They had seen colonial powers sweep through other lands, and knew that neither the Crees nor Ojibwa, Dene nor Dogrib, could stop it. But the missionaries felt they could soften the blow, particularly through education, and by bearing witness to the deluge.

Today, many pilgrims like Gladys Whitford prefer to see themselves as the bridge between alien cultures, between Christianity, for instance, and their own traditional spirituality.

Whitford is from Ebb and Flow, Man., and believes in miracles - in fact, she says she has seen them here. She claims to know a man who regained his eyesight by splashing Ste. Anne's water on his eyes, and she says she regained her own fingernails, which had been withering from a calcium deficiency, after dipping them in the lake.

Last year, she brought her husband in a wheelchair, hoping the lake would ease his vascular troubles. It didn't. He died not long after they returned to central Manitoba, but his mind was at peace, she says. "Before we get physical healing, we need spiritual healing," she tells the congregation during one of the thrice-daily eucharists.

Later, sitting alone on an air mattress in her tent, Whitford lunches on a hot dog and cheese, and explains her message. She says the pilgrimage must return to its spiritual roots, to a mysticism that predates the Oblates. Nothing else, she fears, can stop the Christian-dominated West and its notions of progress from inflicting itself with the sorts of abuse it has brought to others.

"It's not only the native people who have lost their culture," she says. "It's the white people too."

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



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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