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.