Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 24, 2009
Driftpile people exchange Winnebago for wagon train
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Five teams of horses brought pilgrims on a 12-day trek from the Driftpile Reserve to Lac Ste. Anne
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
LAC STE. ANNE - Hundreds of people gathered to watch as horse-drawn wagons, led by a Mountie in red serge, entered the Lac Ste-Anne pilgrimage site.
Priests blessed them upon entering. Drummers with the Northern Grandsons drum group banged their drums and sang with spirited enthusiasm. The native music loosened the rivets of rationalism, taking listeners beyond words in an attempt to express the inexpressible. Throngs of children rushed over to greet them as the horses trod along the grassy path between campers and tents.
The Driftpile Wagon Train Association has been putting the 1,200-member band on the map for the past decade.
What makes them remarkable is that they don't make the journey to the Lac Ste-Anne Pilgrimage via cars, trucks, campers and buses like most other bands.
They leave the Winnebago at home and make the long trek on, as their name suggests, a wagon train.
"This year we only got five teams. We started out with 10 saddle horses and we ended up with five," said Dee Collins, past president of the Driftpile Wagon Train Association.
The group departed from the Driftpile Cree Reserve, situated 30 km west of Swan River, on July 9. The trip was arduous. They travelled full days every day, finally arriving in Lac Ste. Anne July 20 around 2 p.m.
St. Anne is widely revered as the mother of the Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. She embodies the grandmother figure honoured greatly by the Driftpile people.
Consequently, the annual pilgrimage is an important event for spiritual, cultural and social rejuvenation - central aspects of their traditional summer gatherings.
"It's been 12 days, a lot of fun on the road. We're shooting for 10 years. This is our ninth year. You can guarantee that next year is going to be very big," said Collins, already anticipating next year's journey.
The Driftpile Reserve is over 15,000 acres in size and sprawls along 10 km of shoreline on the south side of Lesser Slave Lake. The reserve is about three hours and 15 minutes automobile drive northwest of Edmonton.
Aside from their annual pilgrimage, the group is also active in hosting a yearly powwow, as well as making traditional aboriginal paraphernalia, including drums, moccasins and beaded jewellery.
As expected, the group garners plenty of media attention and curious shutterbugs on the road to their destination.
"There's a lot of videos, a lot of cameras, movie cameras, everything. Anything you want to see is there," said Collins.