The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has lost its beloved matriarch. Catherine E. Velky, 87, died on August 3 at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut, and was buried in a traditional ceremony at the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s burial ground on the nation’s reservation on Wednesday, August 10, 2011. Two of her many grandchildren, Colleen Velky Rockwell and James Velky, released dozens of monarch butterflies at the end of the ceremony, a fitting tribute to the woman who combined the delicacy of a butterfly with the strength of an oak tree.
Catherine Velky was the eldest Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (STN) member and served on the tribal council since the mid-1960s. She was a direct descendant of Gideon Mauwee, the tribe’s first recorded sachem in the late 17th century, the mother of STN Chief Richard Velky, and the center of a large and loving family.
Her daughter-in-law Kathy Velky told Indian Country Today Media Network that she “adored” her mother-in-law. “No one could ever fill Mama's shoes,” Kathy Velky said. “She was a very proud woman with such a strong resolve for her Tribe. Everyone loved her. I will miss her wonderful sense of humor.”
Catherine Velky’s Indian name was Matoaka, which means "Wherever she goes, she brings people together.” In 1990, she traveled to Rome representing her tribe for the canonization of the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekawitha. In 2004, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent the Schaghticoke nation at the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.
Velky was active in tribal affairs all her life both within her tribe and in the state. She participated on the Connecticut Indian Affairs Council in Hartford and in the now defunct American Indian Workforce Development Program. She represented the Schaghticoke people at many meetings, events, social gatherings and functions and was recognized in several naming ceremonies.
She was the driving force behind the tribe’s long quest for federal acknowledgment and worked countless volunteer hours at the STN office as a secretary to the chief. She was instrumental in the development and organization of the 40,000-plus documents filed with the BIA. She continued to work for the tribe until her last days.
A Catholic service was held at Spadaccino Funeral Home in Monroe, Connecticut, on August 9. The following day, Ed Sarabia (Tlingit), the state’s Indian Affairs Coordinator which is housed within the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, conducted the ceremonial burial on the reservation where more than 150 people gathered. Catherine Velky’s grandsons assisted in the ceremony.
Sarabia knew Catherine for almost 30 years, he told ICTMN in an interview later. “It always struck me how she had the wisdom to know individuals from rumors or hearsay or stereotypes. It took a while for us to become friends – I’m from the state, after all, and by the way, we’re the ones who took away the STN’s federal recognition – but she always saw individuals and she was able to separate me, the individual, from the state employee. She was an elder and had the wisdom that elders have,” Sarabia said.
Catherine was one of the most respected Native people in Connecticut, Sarabia said. She was quiet and never pushed herself into the spotlight, but that belied her strength and passion for her family, her tribe, and Indian people everywhere, Sarabia said. “She was there during the rough times, the good times and the worst times. She saw the tribe through from almost nothing to federal recognition and then saw that taken away. I was in awe of her. She was a leader and the backbone of the family and tribe. She was a strong voice, a strong person, a strong heart and now a stronger spirit. She’ll be missed by everyone,” Sarabia said.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on August 14, 1923, Catherine was the daughter of the late Howard Harris and Lillian (Munn) Harris. She was married to Paul F. Velky who passed away on January 6, 1978. Her special interests were spending time with her family, shopping, crocheting and watching "Judge Judy." “When God created the perfect mother it was our Mom,” her children wrote in her obituary. “As the rock, strength and foundation of our family, she was quick-witted and enjoyed making people smile. We love her beyond words and we will miss her so very much.”
Catherine leaves behind her children Joseph Velky Sr. and his wife Judith of Monroe; Betty Kaladish of Huntington; Carol and her husband Larry Bourque of Huntington; Paul Jr. and his wife Alice Velky of Woodbury; Richard and his wife Kathy Velky of Woodbury; and Linda Gray of Sandy Hook. Her daughter Paulette Crone-Morange predeceased her. Also surviving Catherine are sisters, Louise Moynihan of Litchfield and Patricia Nadeau of Torrington; brother, Howard Harris of Shelton; grandchildren, Joseph Jr., John and James Velky, Anthony Crone, Katherine Saunders, Cherie Malione, Jody and Corey Bourque, Colleen Rockwell, Colette Kimball, Melissa Wesaw, Michelle and Richard Velky Jr., Kateri Brittell and Paul Manning; great-grandchildren, Michael, Briana, Joseph Matthew, Andrew, Rebecca, Jimmy, Alexis, Jordan and Cadence Velky, Anthony and Tiana Crone, Francisca Saunders, Tristan Semidey, Sarah and Shannon Malione, Richard and Kevin Bourque, Ryan and Emily Bourque, Josh Rockwell, Jake and Hannah Kimball, Dominic, Marcus Jr. and William Wesaw, Skylar Manning and Terrance Peretti. She also leaves behind several nieces, nephews and cousins. She was also predeceased by her grandsons Larry Kaladish and Terrance Manning, and her sisters, Adele Garby and Stella Parsons, and brother, Irving Harris.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Scholarship Fund, 101 Elizabeth St., Derby 06418. To leave online condolences, visit www.spadaccinofuneralhome.com.