Skip to main content

I am a Catholic.  I love Mass.  I love Catholic iconography because it very powerfully identifies with the human condition; if you see it as Jesus and people-centric and not dogmatic or institutional.  I don't go to mass anymore.

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was a Mohawk woman born in, what is now, New York State.  She is becoming a Catholic Saint.

"At the age of four, smallpox attacked Tekakwitha's village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, leaving Tekakwitha an orphan.  Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Tekakwitha survived.  The brightness of the sun blinded her and she would feel her way around as she walked…Father de Lamberville persuaded her uncle to allow Tekakwitha to attend religious instructions.  The following Easter, twenty-year old Tekakwitha was baptized.  Radiant with joy, she was given the name of Kateri, which is Mohawk for Catherine.  Kateri's family did not except her choice to embrace Christ.  After her baptism, Kateri became the village outcast.  Her family refused her food on Sundays because she wouldn't work.  Children would taunt her and throw stones.  She was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion…Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to working for God, in July of 1677, Kateri left her village and fled more than 200 miles through woods, rivers, and swamps to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis, near Montreal…On March 25, 1679, Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, meaning that she would remain unmarried and totally devoted to Christ for the rest of her life…Kateri's health, never good, was deteriorating rapidly due in part to the penances she inflicted on herself…The poor health which plagued her throughout her life led to her death in 1680 at the age of 24.  Her last words were, "Jesus I love you."  Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, DD, Bishop of Albany, N.Y.

The above was posted on the Catholic Conservation website as a devotional biography - it could be interpreted as another Native American horror story.

Europeans brought smallpox to Kateri and her people which scarred her, almost blinded her and weakened her physically.  Her village was burned to the ground in 1666 by the French general Alexander de Prouville.  He set out on his mission with the blessing of the Bishop of New France.  She was made an outcast child in her community which led to her being humiliated and abused.  She was propagandized into extreme acts of penance which hastened her early death.  "Tekakwitha's penances were many and varied.  She walked barefoot in ice and snow, burned her feet "with a hot brand", very much in the same way that the indians mark their slaves [war captives]," put coals and burning cinders between her toes, whipped her friends and was whipped by them in secret meetings in the woods, fasted, mixed ashes with her food, and slept for three nights on a bed of thorns after hearing of the life story of Saint Louis de Gonzaque." *  

She was proselytized into perpetual virginity.  The population of her people was in rapid decline because of the depredations of the Europeans and smallpox --  she consequently would not contribute to the future prosperity of her tribe.  This could be construed as an indirect act of genocide.

And most sadly, to me, is that she died so young, because of her suffering, and the Iroquois Confederacy lost an amazing individual.  However, the Catholic Church is getting another Saint.

Why can't we have Saint Kateri, who did the miraculous, altruistic, wonderful things that she did, as a Native American, who was empowered and touched by Christianity, but, maintained her Mohawk identity and spirituality.  In other words - a spiritual hybrid.  Maybe this wouldn't be the truth, and, this is not historically the Catholic way.  Catholicism conquered, tortured, appropriated, coerced, enslaved, obsfucated, diminished, denied, humiliated…I have often wondered where we would be right now if Christians and Native Americans could have somehow managed to join, Physically and spiritually, before the North American Holocaust?  Oh well, maybe she was a Saint...However, we know for sure that she was a Kanienkehaka born Te-kak-wee-da at Gandaouague to an Algonquin mother and a Kanienkehaka father.

*Nancy Shoemaker, ed. Negotiators of Change: Historical Perspectives on Native American Women (NY: Routledge, 1995) pg.. 49-71

Previously posted at

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    "This Machine Kills Fascists" - a quote written boldly on the top of Woody Guthrie's guitar. I love this.

    by Kevin Tully on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 04:13:50 PM PST

  •  Google Edith Stein (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevin Tully, RonV, juancito

    It's not just Mohawk Indians that the Catholic Church does this to.

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 04:34:09 PM PST

  •  the whole process of identifying saints (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevin Tully

    is a mystery to me as a non-Catholic.  It seems to be a vestige of the Middle Ages which the Church is loath to surrender. for example it is unclear to me how a saint get downgraded once he attains sainthood but it happens from time to time as the Church trims its rolls.  The number of saints?  Here are the saints and blesseds of the 20th Century alone: and here is the process:

    It would be nice if Kateri could be celebrated as a Native American

  •  By what stretch of the imagination (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevin Tully

    would God want a crippled outcast to torture herself? This is about as sick as the story of "Our Lady of Guadalupe," a propeganda program for the destruction of native temples.

    I have had a medal of "Blessed Kateri" for 50 years. I would love to know more about her. But canonizing someone who tortured herself is about as logical as canonizing the albino Opus Dei guy in the movie.

    Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.

    by MrMichaelMT on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 05:23:08 PM PST

    •  The nuns in my grade school called her (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kevin Tully

      "the Lily of the Mohawks" and told her story without the self-desecration part.  I remember reading similar craziness about Rose of Lima, though. And in the diary of St Therese the Little Flower, there is a reference to a Carmelite practice of self-flagellation (which she finds too disagreeable to engage in, good for her.)  Lady virgins and martyrs rank high with the Catholic church.  The idea of women who would rather die than have sex as models of virtue is one of the nasty little underpinnings of the church's rejection of birth control and abortion: good women must either accept Eve's curse, or, well, become self-loathing, penitential martyrs. Joi de vivre is simply not the way to eternal bliss.

      That said, I'm glad they're promoting her anyway.  She had a shitty life and if there were a God and a heaven, people who suffer as she did would deserve a more affirmative next go-around.  

      “And yet…” Elie Weisel

      by Foothills of Oblivion on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 07:10:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If we learn more about the Mohawk (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kevin Tully

        all the better.

        BTW Therese the Little Flower was probably the ultimate joyful (albeit spoiled) kid, and although her life ended much too soon due to tb, she had many very valuable lessons in that little journal of hers. Not a mention of torture or sex anywhere to be seen, just friendship, care for older nuns, etc.

        Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.

        by MrMichaelMT on Fri Jan 20, 2012 at 03:46:21 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  If one were to do spiritual forensics (0+ / 0-)

      it would appear that the church created the suffering that led to her beatification.  I am curious if there were any Saints created by torture and death at the hands of the Inquisition?  The problem with asking these questions of a member of the Catholic clergy nowadays is that you cannot be sure if you are talking to a pedophile or not.  I  personally would not trust a pedophile's acessment of Catholic history or spirituality.

      "This Machine Kills Fascists" - a quote written boldly on the top of Woody Guthrie's guitar. I love this.

      by Kevin Tully on Fri Jan 20, 2012 at 08:50:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  And then the Mohawks went Baptist. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevin Tully

    300 years of the Catholic CHurch treating the Mohawks no better than they treated the rest  of Quebec, and a faction of Mohawks started a Baptist congregation, and then the Church started locking horns with them on a parcel of land, the parcel that led to the Oka standoff in 1990.

  •  It is another nail (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Denise Oliver Velez, Kevin Tully

    in traditional Native American Belief. That's why. Her sainthood will be used to further the agenda of those who seek to eradicate all trace of Native belief.

    "My case is alter'd, I must work for my living." Moll Cut-Purse, The Roaring Girl - 1612, England's First Actress

    by theRoaringGirl on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 07:04:42 PM PST

  •  I thought the church had to certify (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevin Tully

    a certain number of performed, bona fide, 'documented' miracles? that martyrdom wasn't enough?

    Human reason is beautiful and invincible --Milosz, Incantation

    by juancito on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 09:47:50 PM PST

  •  Pushback (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The 'Saint Louis Catholic' picked up this diary and commented on it in an article titled "The Mohawks didn't Smoke Peyote -- But I can't speak for this Guy".  The title pretty well says it all -- you don't "smoke peyote" and most significant is that peyote is a sacrament in the Native American Church.

    "This Machine Kills Fascists" - a quote written boldly on the top of Woody Guthrie's guitar. I love this.

    by Kevin Tully on Fri Jan 20, 2012 at 09:39:41 AM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site