We spent Saturday night at our friends’ Jan and Mitch’s cottage at Jessica Lake. Sunday morning we headed out to Bannock Point with them to take a guided tour of a petroform site estimated to be around two thousand years old. We were surprised when our friends from church Carol and Vern and Marge and John showed up. They have a cottage at a nearby Brereton Lake and Marge was the one who told me about the Bannock Point tour. Our guide Adam said the Anishinabe people still consider the site a sacred one and continue to hold ceremonies there. He asked that we treat the site with the same kind of respect we would afford any place of worship. Our first stop was at a rock where people leave offerings of shells, bundles of tobacco, sweetgrass and many other things as a way to pay tribute to the spirits while coming and going from the site. Adam had brought along some tobacco for us to sprinkle on the offering rock if we wanted to. We saw many prayer ties in the trees. Adam told us the colorful pieces of material tied to the branches represented people’s prayers. At the end of the season, an Anishinabe elder collects them and burns them sending the prayers they represent to the creator spirit.
Petroforms are features formed by the careful placement of stones to create the outlines of figures or shapes. The first kind of form we looked at was called a power line. Adam suggested it might represent a story or a song with each stone a chapter or verse. It might also symbolize a person’s life with each stone representing an important event in that life. Our next stop was at a turtle formation. Adam told us the familiar Anishinabe creation story about Turtle Island but he also said the turtle formation served a practical purpose since the head of the turtle pointed to the nearest lake. Following the head of this turtle formation would lead you straight to Heart Lake. Snake formations, like this one, provide directions to rivers and this one’s head points to the Whiteshell River which would have been the route people used to visit this site before the highways into the Whiteshell were built as a ‘make work’ project for unemployed men during the Great Depression. This formation is a woman giving birth to a child. Adam told us that sometimes the stones in a formation can be moved by animals or weather elements and also by vandals who might visit the site. Anishinabe elders are consulted about whether to replace the rocks in their original positions or not. Ceremonies are still held regularly at the Bannock Point site including ceremonies for murdered and missing indigenous women. This red dress has become a symbol of the movement which tries to find a measure of justice and peace for the families who have experienced this grief. Although Adam had told us not to touch the rocks he said we could touch this Grandmother Rock. Many people come to this rock to pray. Adam also showed us some of the newer petroforms like this medicine wheel with arms pointing in all four directions. Our last stop was this more secluded spot. Adam said there are those who believe ‘little people’ live here. They come out at night to fix any of the petroforms that may have been disturbed.“Those granite rocks are billions of years old,” Adam told my friend Marge as she posed atop one of them.
I was so glad Marge had told me about this interesting site, a great place to learn more about the religion and culture of the Anishinabe people who came to the Whiteshell long before we cottagers and vacationers discovered it.