Káteri Tekahkwí:the

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Káteri Tekahkwí:the

This post cribbed almost entirely from Metafilter

Joy, bitterness over upcoming canonization of first aboriginal saint, Kateri Tekakwitha

The 17th-century figure will make history when the Vatican canonizes her later this year, although the joy among North America’s indigenous tribes will be mixed with some painful historical memories.

No other “Indian”, as the original inhabitants of the United States and Canada are widely, but wrongly, called, has made sainthood. Following centuries of being dispossessed, caricatured, or ignored, aboriginals will soon have the unusual experience of appearing in a positive light.


Mark Steed, the Franciscan friar heading the Kateri Shrine on the banks of the Mohawk River, said that after more than 30 years of working among First Nations, he is happy to see them win this boost.

“They were put down, bypassed,” Friar Mark, a soft-spoken but steely tough 71-year-old, said. “So I think when you have a repressed people, any star in their crown is a plus.”

For many First Nations, especially among the Mohawk and other Iroquois tribes straddling the U.S.-Canadian border, Kateri’s sainthood was overdue decades ago.


The Mohawk Repatriation of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha

Reverence of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha transcends tribal differences.  Indigenous Catholics identify with her story, and have taken her to heart.  They have made her so much their own that they depict her in their art wearing their own traditional clothing. 

The only negative in all of this is that she looks less Mohawk with each new depiction, as though her cultural background is irrelevant.  The opposite is true: Káteri Tekahkwí:tha was raised with—and defined by—traditional Mohawk beliefs, and it was her understanding of them that led her to embrace a new faith, not so much as a rejection of her traditional beliefs, but as the fulfillment of them.

In recent decades, scholars like David Blanchard, K. I. Koppedreyer, Daniel Richter, Nancy Shoemaker, and Allan Greer, among others, have wrestled this subject away from the domain of more devotional writers, bringing a more critical insight into the cultural world of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha and the Rotinonhsión:ni converts of Kahnawà:ke.  

The time has come for the Rotinonhsión:ni to take it to the next step by repatriating the story of the Mohawk maiden and liberating it from the “saint among savages” theme that was attached to it so long ago.


Catherine Tekakwitha, who are you? Are you (1656 - 1680)? Is that enough? Are you the Iroquois Virgin? Are you the Lily of the Shores of the Mohawk River? Can I love you in my own way? I am an old scholar, better-looking now than when I was young. That's what sitting on your ass does to your face. I've come after you, Catherine Tekakwitha. I want to know what goes on under that rosy blanket. Do I have any rights? I fell in love with a religious picture of you. You were standing among birch trees, my favorite trees. God knows how far up your moccasins were laced. There was a river behind you, no doubt the Mohawk River. Two birds in the left foreground would be delighted if you tickled their white throats or even if you used them as an example of something or other in a parable. Do I have any right to come after you with my dusty mind full of the junk of maybe five thousand books? I hardly even get out to the country very often. Could you teach me about leaves? Do you know anything about narcotic mushrooms? Lady Marilyn just died a few years ago. May I say that some old scholar four hundred years from now, maybe of my own blood, will come after her in the way I come after you? But right now you must know more about heaven. Does it look like one of these little plastic altars that glow in the dark? I swear I won't mind if it does. Are the stars tiny, after all? Can an old scholar find love at last and stop having to pull himself off every night so he can get to sleep? I don't even hate books any more. I've forgotten most of what I've read and, frankly, it never seemed very important to me or to the world. My friend F. used to say in his hopped-up fashion: We've got to learn to stop bravely at the surface. We've got to learn to love appearances. F. died in a padded cell, his brain rotted from too much dirty sex. His face turned black, this I saw with my own eyes, and they say there wasn't much left of his prick. A nurse told me it looked like the inside of a worm. Salut F., old and loud friend! I wonder if your memory will persist. And you, Catherine Tekakwitha, if you must know, I am so human as to suffer from constipation, the rewards of a sedentary life. Is it any wonder I have sent my heart out into the birch trees? Is it any wonder that an old scholar who never made much money wants to climb into your Technicolor postcard?

--Leonard Coehn, Beautiful Losers



Issues Pages: 

There is a very beautiful sculpture of her in front of the St. Francis of Assizi Church in Santa Fe. Stumbled upon it by accident when we were down there last year:



I prefer to look upon these most catholic actions in in the opposite way - as just one more bit of subversion in the borg. After all, how much sense does it make that so much of the most partiarchal church's energy is devoted to worshipping feminine archetypes?




Catchfire Catchfire's picture

In an act of atonement, Vatican makes Kateri Tekakwitha the first native Canadian saint

“Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in North America,” the Pope said, speaking in French and English. “May God bless the first nations.”

The timing of the canonization was no mystery to home-care nurse Judy Carlin, 64, of Edmonton. “I believe the Vatican chooses very timely canonizations,” she said in St. Peter’s Square. “There has been abuse. This will help end some of the pain that happened between the Catholic church and the native Americans and Canadians since the time of the settlements. Now is the moment to give hope to the American and Canadian natives.”

Canadian native leaders attending a post-canonization reception hosted by Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy, had similar views, but they said they were more concerned about the sexual-abuse scandals at the residential schools than the missionaries sometimes other shocking behaviour, such as forcing natives to give up their language and culture, in previous centuries.

Canadian aboriginal leader Phil Fontaine met with the Pope three years ago and obtained an apology for abuses that happened in First Nations schools in the last century. Speaking at the reception after the Kateri canonization, he said: “We see this as a continuation of the healing process and a significant part of the reconciliation. We had an apology in 2009 and now it’s up to each individual to accept this or not.”


sknguy II

6079_Smith_W wrote:
...how much sense does it make that so much of the most partiarchal church's energy is devoted to worshipping feminine archetypes?

It's tough to identify with that model of normal. On the other hand, I'm a bit reluctant to comment on issues of faith myself. My own parents were both residential school attendees through the twenties and thirties. When I'd heard them speak about their experiences I always thought about how they were taken advantage of by the church (working as child laborers, culture suppression, indoctrination and all). I'm sure they never saw themselves as victims of the church as much as of people though. They were young, regardless, they remained devout Catholics throughout the rest of their lives and would've been proud of their faith with this Canonization. Tekakwitha isn't a part of my own identity, but she is a part of a lot of other people's.


@ skinguy II

No, it doesn't really resonate with me either - particularly the idolatry. But I do see how some people are into it. I guess I am also trying to say that even though this is being done by the Catholic hierarchy, there are whole aspects of that religion that aren't actually under central control. Understandable, considering that it is a religion that has adapted itself to cultures all around the world, and blended with belief systems that were already in place.

And really, if the atonement argument is true (and I'd say it is) then sainthood isn't just based on whatever miracles this woman is presumed to have done hundreds of years ago.

There was a documentary on CBC Tapestry this season in which a Catholic cleric defended a candidate for sainthood who was found to have faked stigmata using acid. He essentially took a wink and a nod approach in suggesting that whether a miracle is true or not isn't really important. What was important in his case was what it did for the culture and region where he lived.

I can't really speak to why some Native people still embrace those religions, nor why the school with some of the strongest Native education programs is part of the Catholic School System here in Saskatoon. I find that situation just as paradoxical as the place of strong female imagery in Catholicism.

But then, it's not for me to understand, even if I get that some people take it very seriously.





I was pretty sure Kateri wasn't the first Indigenous North American saint:


December 9
St. Juan Diego

Thousands of people gathered in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe July 31, 2002, for the canonization of Juan Diego, to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in the 16th century. Pope John Paul II celebrated the ceremony at which the poor Indian peasant became the Church’s first saint indigenous to the Americas.
The Holy Father called the new saint “a simple, humble Indian” who accepted Christianity without giving up his identity as an Indian. “In praising the Indian Juan Diego, I want to express to all of you the closeness of the church and the pope, embracing you with love and encouraging you to overcome with hope the difficult times you are going through,” John Paul said. Among the thousands present for the event were members of Mexico’s 64 indigenous groups.

First called Cuauhtlatohuac (“The eagle who speaks”), Juan Diego’s name is forever linked with Our Lady of Guadalupe because it was to him that she first appeared at Tepeyac hill on December 9, 1531. The most famous part of his story is told in connection with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12). After the roses gathered in his tilma were transformed into the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, however, little more is said about Juan Diego.

In time he lived near the shrine constructed at Tepeyac, revered as a holy, unselfish and compassionate catechist who taught by word and especially by example.

During his 1990 pastoral visit to Mexico, Pope John Paul II confirmed the long-standing liturgical cult in honor of Juan Diego, beatifying him. Twelve years later he was proclaimed a saint.

sknguy II

I used to listen to Tapestry every once in a while. But some episodes seemed a little too self absorbed for me. And I suppose that's how I see, well Roman Catholicism at least. I used to be an alter-boy for our local RC church. But even as a young person I felt how smothering the faith was. The notion of intellectually stepping outside one's "faith" was something that was just unthinkable. My parents respected my decision (I was 13 or 14) to stop going to church and assume my own decision making responsibilities. So they weren't the ones who were actually doing the smothering. For my part, it had boiled down to the promoting, building, managing, maintaining and weilding of "faith". Powerful stuff that faith.


The Roman Catholic Church has been playing the name a new saint game for a millennium and a half.  It seems to work very well.  Its like the home town team winning the Stanley Cup if you are a Catholic from the group so honoured.  Or to do justice to where most Catholics live it is like having a hometown favourite on the winning World Cup team. The Church seeking atonement for the wrongs committed by its clergy is a big part of this centuries old tradition. The Church is like an abusive spouse that puts women on a pedestal, in between beatings that is.

Catholics have always been focused on the Mother figure because without a Mother figure it likely would not have become the state religion of the Roman Empire.  My mother's favourite song was Ave Maris Stella and I like the flag that has one star.