Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 30, 2001
Control to shift at Lac Ste. Anne
Oblates prepare to relinquish pilgrimage to native people
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — The Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage, operated almost single-handedly by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate for well over a century, is being reshaped as native people take a more direct role in its management.
While the pilgrimage will preserve its Catholic native nature, the Oblate presence in the event will diminish significantly and its governing structure will become more complex, although more representative of the people who attend it every July.
A proposal would have the pilgrimage and the lands where it is held administered by an appointed senate, a board of management and various advisory committees.
Nearly 60 people, most of them aboriginal people from Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories discussed this governance option and various other aspects of the pilgrimage at an April 20-21 conference sponsored by the Oblates and the 12-member interim planning committee currently running the pilgrimage.
The Oblates and the interim committee have been working on a new governance structure for the pilgrimage for the past 15 months.
The Oblates decided to enter a new partnership with native people because they no longer have the manpower to run the pilgrimage by themselves and because the event is largely aboriginal in nature. Almost half of the members of the order's Grandin Province are retired.
Although control of the pilgrimage will be overwhelmingly native, the Oblates will maintain a presence in the new governing structure, will run the sacramental part of the event and will even appoint the senate.
Youth, aboriginal elders, women and other groups with an active interest in the pilgrimage will be included in the governing structure.
The senate's prime task is to be responsible for the sponsorship of the mission of Lac Ste. Anne. Senators would serve as the owners and pilgrimage sponsors. The senate, which may be appointed by July, would meet once a year.
The board of management, comprised of representatives of various pilgrimage stakeholders, would plan, organize and manage the pilgrimage and approve other activities at the site.
Father Jacques Johnson, pilgrimage director from the late 1970s to 1989, took issue with the complexity of the proposed governing structure and with the diminishing role of the Oblates in it.
Johnson met once a year with a committee to plan the pilgrimage for the following year. He acknowledged the pilgrimage has "grown by leaps and bounds" the past 10 years but said it still doesn't require such a huge structure.
"I'm overwhelmed by the new (governing) structure - a senate, a management board and several advisory committees," he said. "You have nine bodies to administer the pilgrimage.
"I understand things have to change. We have to allow native people to take ownership but I think we are moving from something very simple to something very complicated."
Johnson wondered who will fund such a structure, saying the Oblates can't. The Oblates, who have been carrying the pilgrimage for more than 110 years, will have only "token representation" in the new governing structure, the priest lamented.
"I invite you to think a lot about the role of the Oblates in the future, as to how they are going to continue to be involved in this pilgrimage," Johnson said. "After 110 years I think we still have something to contribute."
Florence Large, a Metis from Saddle Lake, noted conference participants seemed too concerned about the past.
"We need to focus on the present and the future," she said. "Are we going to have a place for a pilgrimage (in the future)? I don't think people are aware that the land (where the pilgrimage is held) can be taken away from the Oblates (as a result of the residential schools lawsuits)."
Large said it is paramount to appoint a senate and a board of management as soon as possible to prevent losing the land. She also called on pilgrimage organizers to "involve everybody that has been baptized in the Catholic Church, not just native people."
Former chief Rod Alexis, a planning committee member, said he has no problem with the proposed structure but expressed concern that the pilgrimage is moving away from its original meaning.
"The problem I have is with losing the Catholic faith," he told the conference. "Let's not lose the Catholic faith and let's not overpower the Oblates. They have done a good job."
Father Camille Piche, provincial superior of the Oblates and member of the interim planning committee, called the conference a "very positive" event that showed native people are concerned about the pilgrimage.
He said Johnson's comments "do not reflect what has been happening (over the past 18 months)." They are "personal comments" and "have little to do with the spirit that has been active" through the negotiations with aboriginal people.
Piche said the Oblates realize there will be costs associated with the transition to a new governing structure and are prepared to face them. The pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne has grown significantly over the years. While 400 people attended the first pilgrimage in 1889, in the 1940s numbers grew to 4,000. Today more than 40,000 people, primarily native, attend the event.
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