Skip to main content

Katsi Cook

Pope Francis: Your Holiness.

We thank you for your journey and for your consciousness to make it a penitential pilgrimage and not a pastoral visit to the Great Turtle Island. The Catholic Church, as you announced to the media and to the Vatican itself, should do penance for the crimes committed against Native peoples. We welcome this attitude. In the name of the Christian religion’s most sacred beings, crimes were committed against our Indigenous identities, our cultures and our Spiritual Ways. These did a huge amount of damage — to individuals, families and to whole peoples.

As you have noted, Pope Francis, among the most affected, over the generations, have been our Native young women. You have noted the trafficking in young women and how Native women are most affected, as missing and murdered. Our best traditional healers and health professionals know how deeply the residential school experience cut into our people. They see clearly the destruction caused by the residential institutions and the policy of forced Christianization.

Indigenous peoples are healing ourselves and we are involved in a huge healing movement among our peoples, connecting health and personal power to cultural recovery and spiritual ceremony. This is always the focus of our quest.

I am Tekatsi:tsia’kwa, Elder and traditional midwife authority among my Mohawk people and other Indigenous peoples; I speak for the women and for the families, and for the sacredness of our Mother Earth.

Today, I come to keep company of this living cultural icon, the Empty Cradle board.

Our Bear Clan Mother, Louise Wakerahkáhtste Hearn, offers the Empty Cradle board as a central symbol of an ongoing encounter by Native peoples with the Catholic and other churches. The Empty Cradle board symbolizes the first embrace and maternal bond after birth. Our spiritual identity was assaulted and damaged wantonly and often brutally intended to deny our spirituality.

  • As Indigenous peoples we have diverse spiritual ways that are also harmonious; Indigenous ceremonies from different continents speak to each other and respect each other as a related Spiritual Way. Our Mapuche friend called it a religion of the Cosmic Family, of Appreciation for the Spirits of the Natural World. In our case, as Mohawks, as Haudenosaunee, we have a Creator and we are instructed by our ancient traditions to seek peace in the World.
Scroll to Continue

Read More

I would ask, respectfully from Pope Francis, who gives evidence of a deeper humanity, to acknowledge even more clearly this reality: that the Indigenous peoples, have a way of worship and a connection to spirit, which is of our own.

  • Your Holy See recognizes and acknowledges the other spiritual systems of the world, beyond the Roman Catholic Church, extending a respectful hand to other Christian churches, to Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.

The acknowledgement by the Catholic Church that our Indigenous spiritual peoples, our ceremonies -- our autochthonous spiritual intelligence, is a Way of Life that is among the great religions of humankind, and with the recognition that it is uniquely ancient – this would be of value.

  • The women behold this beautiful cradle board. As a midwife, I know intimately the life and the brilliant innocence that belongs in it; something ours, something of our peoples is held in a cradle board. Our languages belong in that cradle board, our ancient prayers must be in it, the names and orientations of our peoples, our primary spiritual beings, ceremonies for all Creation, rites of passage and vision ceremonies, persisting and recovered values and knowledge.

This is the essence of our healing path and the healing strategy of our individuals, families and communities. Recovering our culture, we recover ourselves. It is a huge undertaking, one that only our Native peoples can design and conduct. Our own healers, our own doctors. The pain and suffering are deep and widespread. It will require the continuous re-strengthening of our spiritual ways, our cultural understandings, and our capacities as providers of health and well-being for our communities. It will require mountains of love.

We call upon Pope Francis to be an advocate for such an approach. We know the Catholic church is of many opinions, some harshly negative, about these issues. We hope you can win the good-hearted leadership within the church to prevail, to be just, generous, and respectful and to be a substantial, direct support for such an endeavor by the Native peoples of Turtle Island.

New ICT logo

This opinion-editorial essay does not reflect the views of Indian Country Today; voices in our opinion section represent a variety of reader points of view. If you would like to contribute an essay to Indian Country Today, email

More information about our guidelines: Submission guidelines.