I assume there is no need here to spell out in great detail how this seventeenth-century Algonquin-Mohawk woman made it into the official list of Roman Catholic saints. Suffice it to say that the journey was long (Kateri’s canonization did not occur until 2012; her beatification happened in 1980). The reception history of Kateri’s saintly life also has not been without problems, from various racializing narratives of Kateri that celebrate her as standing head and shoulder above her own Native peoples to Native peoples who reject Kateri as a colonialist trophy.
For me, Kateri’s feast day on this July 14 (at least in the United States) is above all a call to acknowledge the Native American land on which I live, pray, and worship. Canadian friends tell me that in Christian liturgies there it is quite common to acknowledge and give thanks for the Native land on which the liturgy takes place at the start of worship. I applaud that gesture, small as it is, and would love to see liturgical life in the United States follow suit. Maybe there are communities that do this already? I have certainly never had the privilege of being a part of one. And it saddens me that institutions other than the church are ahead on this sensitive point (it is not the only one). Columbia University, for example, unveiled a bronze plaque last year in honor of the Lenape people, the original inhabitants of the land on which the university now sits. The plaque explicitly names the displacement and dispossession of the Lenape, the “indigenous peoples of Manhattan.”
I am not proud to acknowledge that it took me almost ten years of living in New England to learn the name of the indigenous peoples of my particular area. In order to remind myself to acknowledge them in my daily prayers, I have placed a reminder from a Native American burial ground nearby in the center of my prayer place. Today especially, on this feast day of the first and (so far) only Native American saint of North America, I give thanks for the indigenous peoples on whose land I live, and move, and have my being: the Quinnipiac/Quiripi/Renapi confederacy, a tribal nation of the Eastern Algonquian family.
Why not take time today and honor St. Kateri by finding out on whose indigenous land you live and move and pray?