So, the silliness has begun over the impending canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. The Toronto Star stirred the pot in January with a story about the ‘damned Yankees’ trying to steal away a Canadian saint.
Tekakwitha was a Mohawk child who was four in 1660 when her mother, father and brother died in a smallpox outbreak that ravaged Iroquois settlements in what is now upstate New York. She also had smallpox but survived with severe facial scarring and partial blindness. She was taken in by relatives and later began to develop devotion to Christianity brought by Jesuit missionaries.
Many of the Iroquois tribes did not like the Jesuits or the new religion. Priests were killed, and people who followed their religion were marginalized and mocked.
Kateri was among some Mohawks who moved with Jesuits to a Christian settlement now called Kahnawake on Montreal’s south shore. She became known there for her piety, acts of penance and care of the sick. She died at only 24 and those at her bedside said that as she passed away, the smallpox scars on her face disappeared and she became beautiful to look at.
The Catholic Church has been investigating miracles associated with her for well over 100 years. In 1943, the Vatican declared her a possibility for sainthood and beatified her in 1980. In October, she will officially become the church’s first native North American saint.
The fuss over whether Kateri was American or Canadian has been going on for decades. It will intensify now with her elevation to sainthood. It’s totally ridiculous. She is neither an American, nor a Canadian saint. She is a saint of the Mohawks, who were a distinct nation long before the Europeans arrived, and still consider themselves a nation despite all the attempts to assimilate them.
Kateri Tekakwitha is an interesting story, whether you believe in saints and miracles or not. More on Tekakwitha and the Mohawks will be found in Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America’s Tobacco Industry, my latest book that will be published this fall by Dundurn Press.