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Alberta

‘Largest spiritual Indigenous gathering’ to return during Pope’s visit to Alberta

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LAC STE. ANNE, Alta. — Rev. Garry LaBoucane remembers going to Wakamne — or God’s Lake — during the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage as a boy.

“It was always a family tradition,” the 74-year-old said in an interview from Vancouver, where he’s a Métis priest at Sacred Heart Parish.

He remembers sleeping in a pup tent near the cemetery with his grandfather, attending Latin church services he didn’t understand and meeting people from all walks of life.

“It was a social time, visiting with family,” LaBoucane said before the Vatican announced a visit to the sacred lake west of Edmonton would be part of Pope Francis’ planned trip to Canada next month.

“It’s a pilgrimage, a time to pray, a time to be with other nations. It’s the largest spiritual Indigenous gathering in North America.”

The annual pilgrimage had grown to about 40,000 people in 2019 — the year before it shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s to resume in person this year from July 25 to 28.

The papal visit is set to start in Edmonton on July 24, move on to the Quebec City area on July 27 and end in Iqaluit on July 29. It is to include public and private events with an emphasis on Indigenous participation.

Before the Pope’s plans were confirmed, Rev. Les Kwiatkowski said in an interview that there was a lot of talk about a potential visit from the pontiff.

“Many people are very excited, but also this could bring even more healing and more reconciliation,” he said.

Lac Ste. Anne has been considered sacred for many generations and has become known as a place of healing.

The oral history from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation suggests a chief from the southeast followed his vision and led his people to the shores of the lake.

An annual pilgrimage was organized by a priest in 1889 and has continued annually during the week of July 26, which is the feast day of St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. The grandmother figure is said to have strong importance within Indigenous culture.

The pontiff is to celebrate an open-air mass at Commonwealth Stadium, home to the Edmonton Elks football team, that day and travel to Lac Ste. Anne in the early evening.

Kwiatkowski, who has attended the pilgrimage every summer since 1990 when he moved from Poland, said he has heard from many people across Western Canada who are excited to come this year.

“People need that, there’s no doubt,” he said. “It’s not only spiritual, it’s also social.

“They come to worship, they come to pray, they come for healing. They also come to spend time together.”

Half of those who attend, he said, come from isolated communities and that’s the only time they get to see their friends and relatives.

“It’s a beautiful spirit,” said Kwiatkowski.

He has heard stories about family traditions and about miracles.

“Every day when doing the pilgrimage, someone will come to you and say, ‘It helped me to forgive, it helped me to heal from the past, it helped me to understand things more,'” said Kwiatkowski.

“Healing is more than physical healing. It’s the whole being. For people who come — sometimes very far they have to travel to get here — it’s a special time of healing, of finding themselves.”

LaBoucane said it’s also known as a place of physical healing — even featuring spots where people have left their crutches.

His parents had a similar experience when he was a child.

“I had eczema really, really bad,” said LaBoucane, who hasn’t had any problems since that visit.

Kwiatkowski agreed it’s a special place, especially the lake’s water.

“It has huge significance for Indigenous people,” he said. “People take gallons of this water, they take it home. They use this water for many different reasons — for strength and for healing.

“It has huge significance.”

At a news conference Thursday alongside Edmonton’s archbishop, LaBoucane said he welcomed news of the Pope’s upcoming visit with great joy.

“People are looking forward to being with him, praying with him at Lac Ste. Anne.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.

— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary, with files from Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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