Tradition and respect for roots of First Nations culture and past were celebrated as generations departed Driftpile in the 16th annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste Anne.
“We had close to 70 travel in the wagon train, from as young as four to 79 years old,” says Blaine Cunningham, president of the Driftpile Cree Nation Pilgrimage Society.
They left in five wagons on July 6 and plan to complete the 250-kilometre trek in 12 days to arrive at the annual Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage from July 16-21.
“Each year, we ride by horses to the healing waters of Lac Ste. Anne.
“Elders use to go by horse and wagon and all we’re doing is keeping up that tradition of our elders and culture.”
Thousands of pilgrims gather for several days each July for the largest annual Catholic gathering in western Canada to search for healing and spiritual renewal in a tradition that began more than 100 years ago.
“We will drive 25-40 kilometres a day,” Cunningham says.
“We usually stop at Fort Assiniboine for a feast at the halfway point.”
The waters of the lake provide healing and a connection with past to provide hope for the present and future.
“It’s a healing journey for the loved ones I’ve lost,” says Beatrice Collins, vice-president of the pilgrimage society, who embarked on her 13th wagon trip.
“Every time one of them passes away, I ride for that person.
“As we go each day, the horses’ hooves guide me with the sounds of their hooves.
At first, the hooves are heavy with grief, but lighten as the journey progresses, she says.
“It tells me they are not carrying the heavy load, because our ancestors are answering our prayers,” Collins says.
Before the group leaves, Roger Okemaw prays for a time of blessing and healing on the journey and at Lac Ste. Anne.
“I go to this event to respect people who have taken this trip before us and those that have passed before us,” says Okemaw, 73.
“I’ve seen a lot of people on this journey.”
But he also looks to the present and future.
“This is to show the children to respect elders and to have them learn about horsemanship and safety with horses,” Okemaw says.
Since the local pilgrimage started in 2001 by Peter Freeman and Clifford Freeman, about 90 people take the trek, Cunningham says.
Chief Dean Giroux and band council members value the efforts of the pilgrimage society that is able to sustain itself and the pilgrimage without requesting financial support from the band.