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Native American Stories, Folklore, Poetry, Religion & History

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as Lily of the Mohawks was born 1656 and died April 17, 1680

She is a Catholic saint who was an Algonquin–Mohawk laywoman. Born in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, on the south side of the Mohawk River in present-day New York State, she contracted smallpox in an epidemic; her family died and her face was scarred. She converted to Catholicism at age nineteen, when she was renamed Kateri, and baptized in honor of Catherine of Siena. Refusing to marry, she left her village and moved for the remaining five years of her life to the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River in New France, now Canada.

Tekakwitha took a vow of perpetual virginity. Upon her death at the age of 24, witnesses said that minutes later her scars vanished and her face appeared radiant and beautiful. Known for her virtue of chastity and mortification of the flesh, as well as being shunned by some of her tribe for her religious conversion to Catholicism, she is the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Catholic Church and the first to be canonized.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is often praised as the first Native American saint, but what is more remarkable is just how quickly she achieved sanctity. Normally sainthood is the process of twenty, thirty even forty years and yet, within four years of her baptism, St. Kateri had become a saint. What was the secret to sanctity that had St. Kateri found?

St. Kateri was born to a Christian mother of the Algonquin tribe and to a non-Christian father of the Mohawks. In 1660, when she was four, she tragically lost both of her parents and her little brother in a small pox epidemic. Although she survived smallpox herself, her eyesight was forever impaired and her face was scarred. She would later thank God for this, regarding it as a special grace that, receiving little attention, she was left to devote herself more freely to God.

Although St. Kateri’s mother had died before Kateri could be baptized, her good mother died ardently praying that God would provide for her child. St. Kateri was then raised by an uncle, the chief of the Turtle Clan, who was very wary of Christians and often opposed to them. However, there was some friendly contact with missionaries and at age 18 she started receiving instructions in the faith. Finally, her uncle reluctantly consented to her conversion and on Easter Sunday in 1676, she was baptized, taking the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena.

Although her uncle allowed her to convert, St. Kateri still had to face the hostility of her own tribe and she suffered greatly from them. They simply could not understand why she refused to work on Sundays, but since she would not work on Sundays, she would not eat on Sundays. They would regularly hide all the food and leave her with nothing. Some would throw stones at her and insult her she would walk to the chapel. On one occasion, her uncle even sent a warrior to frighten her, as he pretended to attack her with a hatchet.

Eventually, St. Kateri began to fear for her life and fled to the mission of St. Francis Xavier, two hundred miles north, in Canada. Her village priest instructed her to deliver a letter for him, and when the missionaries at St. Francis Xavier opened it, the letter read, “I am sending you a treasure, guard it well!”

At the mission in Canada, her fellow Christians were devout, but St. Kateri soon distinguished herself by her great fervor, particularly in her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Her great love for the Blessed Sacrament was largely responsible for her swift rise to sanctity. St. Kateri attended two masses every day and she was always the first one at the chapel. Arriving at four in the morning, she would stand outside and pray until the chapel opened, even during the winter. She would visit the Blessed Sacrament several times per day and would always be the last one to leave at night.

The fruit of her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament led St. Kateri to have a great purity of heart. “Her chastity was the most beautiful flower in her crown,” said her first biographer, Fr. Claude Chauchetière (source #5). She preserved such extraordinary purity through constant mortification of the senses and through devotion to the Blessed Virgin. On the feast of the Annunciation in 1679, St. Kateri joyfully made a private vow of perpetual virginity and asked Mary to accept her as a daughter.

Only a year after making her vow, she became extremely ill, possibly having caught pneumonia. On April 17, during Holy Week, St. Kateri Tekakwitha passed away at age 23. Those who assisted at her death were privileged to witness a miracle, the first of many that would be attributed to her. Although St. Kateri’s face had been marked by smallpox her whole life, as her soul ascended to its heavenly glory, her skin became clear and radiant. With the apostle St. Paul, she could truly exclaim, “I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

“Having been informed that a report is current that I am harboring guilty Indians”

1899 McLaughlin Roll Census of the loyal Mdewakanton Mendota Dakota

Faribault Central Republican – June 10, 1863

Having been informed that a report is current that I am harboring guilty Indians, and that there are now at my place a large number, some of whom are known to have participated in the outbreak, and that threats of violence to any Indians found there, have been made, I deem it my duty to quiet the fears of persons who might believe such report to be true, though I hope my fellow citizens will examine for themselves.

The only Indians at my place are:

First, Wacou, or LaClare, and his family, who were here during the outbreak, and are known to be entirely innocent. He came with me when I moved here, and has been here ever since that time, never living with the tribe and his children are being educated here, and now talk English well.

Second, Pepe and brother and family – are known to all our citizens, and whose character is vouched for by Col. Crooks, General Sibley and others – have always lived with me, going among the Indians only at the time of payment.

Third, A widow with two children. She has one son in our army, whose good character and soldierly conduct is vouched for by his officers.

Fourth, Taopi and family. This is the person whom General Sibley, Col. Crooks, and other officers, as well as the white captives, unite in saying was the means of saving the captives taken by Little Crow.

Fifth, The wife and mother of Good Thunder, a man whom all admit also, assisted in saving the captives, and is now employed as a scout for General Sibley. His family were sent here for safety.

Above you have the names of all the Indians in Faribault, and I trust no person will contend that these Indians, after rendering to the country such service should be sent off to be killed by hostile tribes.

I know these Indians well, and I know them to be harmless, innocent and good persons; but if the citizens of Faribault are not disposed to protect these “friends of the whites,” all I ask is that they may not be molested, but that I may have time to notify General Sibley and have them removed, if the people do not wish them to remain. I await notice of your determination.

Alex. Faribault

Mendota Dakota and the Rebirth of a Community, video documentary.

This documentary film follows the story of the Mendota Dakota, a Native American tribe from Mendota, Minnesota, from pre-Minnesota to the present era.
It includes interviews with Jim Anderson, Sharon Lennartson, Jim Albrecht and Curt LeClaire of the Mendota Dakota tribe. It also features a short speech from Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.
This film was created by Brian Gilbert.
Part 1 of 4

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Part 4 of 4
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