Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha will become a saint in the fall, and the media is looking for the predicted mixed reactions
I see a few stories around about this important event and hear attitudes about it as well. They ask, how does it feel that the Catholic Church, which doesn’t have the best reputation among many Indians is going to make an Indian a Saint.
While the final act of canonization rests with Church authority, it is the people, the followers of the Church’s many ceremonies, prayers and observances that are pushing for this Mohawk woman to become made a Saint based on the miracles that took place in her name.
The making of a Saint has little to do with the desires of those put up for Sainthood, no one heard of someone going to their grave saying, “Save that spot over there for a Statue of me, for one day I will become a Saint!”
Some mistakingly believe that Tekakwitha was talked into changing her faith from Mohawk tradition to the worship of Jesus Christ. But, the oral history is that she simply added a new layer to the way she lived her life, a layer that made sense to her and added to the many things she already understood from her Clan Mothers and Uncles in the Mohawk tradition.
She knew well the Mohawk ceremonies and medicine ways, she did not turn her back on those things, and she loved her people. As a mature woman, she added another layer that made sense to her.
Over time Tekakwitha heard of the deeds of a man named Jesus Christ. She is impressed and sees many similarities between this man and the best virtues of her people. She experienced the feeling of living with Christ in her life. She decides to follow the ways of Christ’s worshipers. And, why not? The worshipers she has known were kind to her and lived the life they preached, not all Jesuit’s were evil and they took great pains to learn the language and ways of Tekakwitha’s people.
I may not believe the Church is what I embrace, but I am not its enemy, I am its critic and there is a difference. A critic can be a friend.
My dad was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as a baby and while in his 20's he abandoned the Church, much to the disgruntlement of his brothers and sisters. He disagreed with many of the Churches practices and efforts to lead Indian people away from our traditions. But, I learned of how he believed one day.
Once while we were working together I made a mistake measuring something and after making the incorrect cut, I let out a loud angry "Jesus Christ what the hell!" My Dad scolded me saying it was my mistake and that Jesus had nothing to do with it. During lunch he explained his thoughts on Jesus and explained Christ's beliefs and goals. "Say what you want about the Church, they have done many questionable things towards our people. But, son, leave Christ out of it, he was a good man and is not responsible for what his so called believers did in his name, and much of it was misguided."
So, my point is, if we go down this path of pointing out whether we should question the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, we should keep mindful the NDN's we will be insulting, people who spent much of their lives pushing this agenda and believing in Christ. Even while working to make the Church live up to its advertised/prostilitized core values. And, we need to be distinct in this line, we cannot confuse Christ with a church that he actually had no part in creating.
If we exhibit "mixed reactions" I think that is a good thing, a true emotion. We should not be reactionaries to this event, leave the anger on the ground, let's pick up on the rational. The sins of the Church are the sins of misguided men.
In the Iroquois tradition, once a person passes away, the name of the deceased is to never be mentioned again as it will cause them confusion or delay them from their journey. Sometimes, the spirit will get angry or be annoyed, or saddened by the sadness of their relatives left behind. But not Tekakwitha, she answered prayers and offered miracles in the form of cures for illnesses. That is heavy stuff, no matter what one believes.
It was her spirit’s miracles that got people’s attention. We see such miracles like her’s many times in Peyote meetings and sweat lodges and in the myriad ceremonies that all Nations practice, each different from the next.
Just a short few hundred years ago, we were pagans and heathens, now, there is going to be a Saint amongst our ancestors. Who would have ever guessed? The concept of Tekakwitha as Saint presents to the world the best of our characteristics; focus, commitment, love, patience, fortitude, hope and honor. That is all good stuff to look up to, no matter the context. In my Mohawk traditional sovereign mind, there is no mixed reaction; Kateri Tekakwitha will become a Saint and an example and a reminder of how the Church should behave toward all peoples.
Ray Cook is the opinion editor for Indian Country Today Media Network.