Ecological concerns raised on state of Lac Ste. Anne

 — June 10, 202210 juin 2022

Growing up on Lac Ste. Anne in the 1940s and ’50s, Tony Belcourt remembers a rich and wondrous body of water, teeming with life.

“I go back to the ’40s. We had an abundance of fish, whitefish from the lake. The water was up,” said Belcourt, the former broadcaster and one-time president and CEO of the Metis Nation of Ontario.

When Pope Francis visits the lake this summer, he will be looking at a lake very different from the Lac Ste. Anne of Belcourt’s childhood memories. A 2017 report on the state of Lac Ste. Anne and its sister Isle Lake by the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance raises concerns about blue-green algae blooms, dropping lake levels, agricultural run-off and an environment stressed by power boats and recreation on the lake.

The report names at-risk species for the watershed, including peregrine falcons, western grebe and northern leopard frog, which are classed as “threatened,” and barred owls, black-throated green warbler and trumpeter swans as of “special concern.”

In recent years, pilgrims to Lac Ste. Anne have been greeted by Alberta Health warnings about water quality.

“I know that in the past, whatever government body that was, they put up signs about not going into the water,” said Fr. Gary Laboucane, who sits on the organizing council for the annual pilgrimage. “They go in and pray anyway.”

The Archdiocese of Edmonton has no great concern about the state of the lake.

“At this time, there are no water quality advisories for Lac Ste. Anne, meaning that it is safe for pilgrims to enter the water,” said archdiocese spokesperson Andrew Ehrkamp.

But St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta philosophy professor and theologian Nathan Kowalsky believes the state of the lake should grab our attention — particularly in the context of reconciliation with Indigenous people. Inviting the Pope who wrote Laudato Si’, the first papal encyclical on the environment, to the lake almost automatically makes the lake’s water quality and ecosystems an issue.

“Human degradation of aquatic ecosystems — including fertilizer and other effluent run-off, mercury poisoning of fish and disturbance of waterfowl breeding grounds — is a sin. Moreover, Lac Ste. Anne is an especially sacred site in Alberta,” Kowalsky said in an email.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis highlights the particular importance of Indigenous peoples in care for creation.

“They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed,” Pope Francis wrote in 2015.

The Pope isn’t just talking about far away places in developing countries. Pope Francis’ teaching can also be applied in Alberta, said Kowalsky.

“The lake is still sacred and the pilgrimage recognizes that,” he said. “However, my settler culture has desecrated this site, among many others, threatening its ability to convey the sacramental meaning that God intends.”

The sacredness of water is central to Indigenous culture, said Belcourt. It’s not a matter of imposing a special, protected status for Lac Ste. Anne or any other lake.

“What’s the difference? All of our waters are sacred to us,” he said. “That lake has extremely important spiritual traditions. It’s spiritually important to us. … Our concerns are for all the waters.”

The Alberta government promotes a “Water for Life” strategy that includes Lac Ste. Anne as part of the Sturgeon River watershed. The pilgrimage site was designated a National Historic Site by the federal government in 2004. In terms of ecology, Lac Ste. Anne is not being treated any differently from other prairie lakes, said Alberta Environment and Parks spokesperson Paul Hamnett.

The power boats that have disturbed western grebe breeding grounds will continue to have free reign on the lake, unless local municipalities apply to the federal Minister of Transport, who is responsible for the Canada Shipping Act. At the provincial level, the government of Alberta is interested in talking to Indigenous people.

For Kowalsky, the Church should also be seeking dialogue.

“Lac Ste. Anne should be treated as reverentially as the waters used in baptism,” he said. “As an act — and not just words — of reconciliation, settler Albertans and Christians should seek to have Lac Ste. Anne designated as an historic lake (or one of equal or greater protected status) so that its waters can fully reflect their simultaneous spiritual and physical value.”

Posted: June 10, 2022 • Permanent link:
Categories: Catholic RegisterIn this article: ecology, Indigenous peoples, pilgrimage, Pope Francis
Transmis : 10 juin 2022 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : Catholic RegisterDans cet article : ecology, Indigenous peoples, pilgrimage, Pope Francis

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