Honoring Indigenous Peoples and their Land, on this Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

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?

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7 comments

  1. “only Native American saint of North America,”

    Only if you consider Mexico to be outside North America…

    When I moved to my home in 1991, I researched the history of the block, because one corner of the block had a home built in 1702, and the land was in the same family for a couple of hundred years (which family did own a few enslaved people at some point in the colonial era). Where I lived had been land that was part of an area controlled by a particular clan of indigenous peoples, but who had largely died out by disease (probably brought by contact with seasonal European fishing/trader crews in the very early 1600s) before Europeans claimed, negotiated purchase and settled it in the 1630s.

    Whenever I drive over the lovely Mount Hope Bridge towards Bristol, RI (formerly of Massachusetts, in the era when Bristol was one of the chief northern points in the Triangle Trade), I think of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Philip%27s_War

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:
      Ah yes, I stand corrected on my use of “North American” here. I had indeed not properly counted Mexico in when using the term. I blame my language of origin for that: “Nordamerika” usually simply stands for the U.S. and Canada

      1. @Teresa Berger:
        No problem; typical Spanish usage agrees with yours (Norteamericano…). The issue of defining North America usually allows me to trot out one of my favorite Trivial Pursuit questions:

        Where and roughly when was the first Christian diocese in the New World established?

        (Hint 1: it’s not located in Meso-America.)

        (Hint 2: It was well before Columbus set foot on the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Over 300 years, in fact.)

        Answer: Garðar, in Greenland, by Pope Paschal II, in the early 12th century. It ceased to be an active see just before Columbus arrived in the Americas, and was revived in 2001 as a titular see for auxiliary Bp Clarke of Los Angeles, though the Eth has been transliterated as D rather than Th….

  2. Twenty years before her beatification she was already memorialized at a Catholic Youth Organization summer camp I attended. ‘Her’cabin, fondly known as “Katy Tek”, was home for 20 boys for a week at a time, and where we first learned her story. (And, of course, 20 girls during the girls’ sessions.)

    The camp, and Katy Tek cabin, are still there.
    Thank you for a reminder of a great Native American saint.

  3. May Saint Kateri Tekakwitha continue to unite the Original Peoples of this continent! May she lead many others of us to acknowledge their deep earth-centered spirituality that can positively influence our liturgies and gatherings!

  4. Her shrine church, Saint Francis Xavier Church, Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, just across the river from Montréal, is well worth a detour.

    A meeting of Universa Laus in Montréal in 2001 went to the shrine for a guided visit, Mass, and reception. The music at the Mass was led by a Mohawk choir. You have never heard such a sound: acidic howling, similar to what the scholars tell us was the habitual tone of mediaeval vocal production — i.e. shouting in the chest voice. The Mohawks were very gracious hosts, however.

    Some of us were so taken with the church and museum that we returned there after the conference was over to spend more time with the exhibits.

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      I was there and I remember the Mass very well. The Mohawk deacon smudged us with burning sweetgrass and there were dreamcatchers on the walls of the church, at the four quarters of the compass. The simple tomb of Blessed Kateri (as she was then) was very moving. All in all, a very happy memory.

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