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People of the Blood
A decade-long photographic journey into a place of suffering, stoicism and spirituality

By George Webber

There is a dramatic beauty to the land in the Blood Indian Reserve, with the Rocky Mountains thrusting suddenly up out of the plains to the west and rolling clouds tumbling over the sheared top of Chief Mountain on the horizon.

It is Good Friday, and I am crossing the Oldman River into the reserve. Demarcated by three rivers—the Oldman, the Belly and the St. Mary—this reserve in the southwestern corner of Alberta is Canada's largest and is said to look, on a map, like an arrowhead pointing southwest.

It is almost midday when I pull over at a remote, gravelly crossroad and turn off the engine. I am on a vast, empty plain somewhere southwest of Stand Off. A powerful west wind shakes the car as I gaze, transfixed, at Chief Mountain.

A shape moving on the eastern horizon catches my eye. It is a small group of people. The tiny walking figures are the only interruption in the great flatness. And they are carrying something. A cross. I glance southward... more figures, then back to the west... another cluster, another cross borne across the landscape. I am at the intersection of a trinity.

The groups merge into a single powerful current, and I follow them into St. Mary's Immaculate Church for a service celebrated this day by both Anglican and Catholic clergy. The cross bearers, their faces wind-burnished, fill the pews, joining elder couples and young families from Stand Off, Cardston and Levern for sermons, hymns and prayers centred on the crucifixion.

It is late afternoon, Holy Saturday. I'm sitting in my truck outside a little general store off Highway 2 at the edge of Stand Off. Sam Day Chief (RIGHT) strolls over and introduces himself. There is a gentle but dramatic quality to his expressive gestures as he speaks. Sam is a retired rancher who, for the past 13 years, has helped with the sun dance every July near Stand Off, assisting those who participate in the sweat lodge. He asks for a ride, and we drive north to Fort Macleod. Sam thanks me, gets out and disappears across the street.
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Reprinted with the permission from  George Webber and Canadian Geographic (July/August, 2001): 52-63.

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