Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2000
Ste. Anne pilgrimage seeks input
Oblates continue efforts to turn historic event over to aboriginal people
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Aboriginal people are seeking broad community input as to how they will operate the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage in partnership with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
"We seek your counsel, assistance and prayers as we journey on this path," says a recent letter to pilgrims from the corporation that runs the event.
The Oblates, who have been running the pilgrimage since 1889, have decided to turn over the operation of the annual event to native people.
Since last January, a 12-member interim planning committee, which includes three Oblate priests, has been getting input from the community and working out the details of the transfer.
"The committee is planning to seek broad input from all pilgrims to this new partnership as we try to define processes and details," says the pilgrimage corporation letter.
The committee is planning a three-day conference for the end of March to discuss what to do with the pilgrimage program and the pilgrimage site as well as to formalize the structure of the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage corporation.
"There has been a lot of planning and we are trying to come to a conclusion," says committee chair Charles Wood.
He hopes the conference will elect a permanent board and that native people will be made full partners in the Oblates' Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage corporation.
Wood is also hoping the Oblates will agree to turn over the pilgrimage site to aboriginal control "as a sign of their willingness to partner."
Otherwise, the Oblates, who are facing many lawsuits for their role in the residential school system, run the risk of losing the 35-acre site through the courts, he said. "And if that happens, the pilgrimage site will be lost for everybody."
Father Camille Piche, provincial of the Oblates of Grandin Province, has said the order is willing to consider turning over the title of the land site once a plan is ready and a permanent board is elected.
Right now, however, "that's not the issue," he said Nov. 20. "We have yet to set up a governance board that will decide more practical ways to develop this partnership."
He said under the aboriginal-Oblate partnership, native people are expected to run most aspects of the pilgrimage while the Oblates focus on the spiritual and sacramental side of things.
"Now aboriginal people are going to be involved in the planning process," noted interim committee member Rod Alexis. "We have to decide how best we utilize the pilgrimage grounds as a whole and how we get people involved."
A mission statement developed by the interim committee says that while the pilgrimage respects native spirituality, it will continue to be "based on Catholic faith. The pilgrimage shall keep the Mass central and promote the sacraments."
The Oblates decided to turn the pilgrimage over to the aboriginal community as a jubilee gesture and because they don't have the manpower to run the event. In the last 15 years, the order's numbers have plunged from 165 to 100. Fewer than 30 Oblates are in active ministry.
Wood said aboriginal people are more than willing to take over. "I think the aboriginal people can do all of that so that the Oblates can concentrate on the spiritual aspects (of the pilgrimage)."
According to Wood and Alexis, it is "conceivable" that the pilgrimage site will be used for other activities throughout the year, including healing programs, personal development programs, and summer camps for aboriginal youth.
That will be decided by conference participants. "We want people to decide what's going to happen," Wood said.
The Oblates first organized the pilgrimage in 1889 to coincide with the Feast of Ste. Anne on July 26. The pilgrimage became an annual event and continued to expand. Where in the beginning about 400 people attended, now more than 40,000 attend annually.
Although the pilgrimage was initially an equal balance of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, since the 1940s it has been primarily an aboriginal event.