By Gale Courey Toensing
Almost 2,000 people from Akwesasne and Kahnawake will flock to the Vatican for the ceremony that will grant sainthood to Kateri Tekakwitha, the first indigenous woman of Turtle Island to be canonized by the Catholic Church. The canonization will take place on Sunday.
About 150 people—three busloads—left for the airport a week ago, and others, like Alma and Orlo Ransom and three members of their family, were leaving on Thursday, October 18, for the ancient city.
“The Vatican is topping off what we feel by making her a saint,” Alma Ransom told Indian Country Today Media Network. She has played a critical role in the canonization effort over the years.
Sunday October 21 is the day that Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk and Algonquin, is being granted sainthood. Though Tekakwitha’s canonization has highlighted ambivalence toward the church throughout Turtle Island, this recognition of Catholicism and Native devotion resonated among Indians and brought a few thousand of North America’s Indigenous Peoples to Rome to see for themselves the culmination of 300 years of prayers. Nearly 2,000 of them are Mohawks from both sides of the U.S.–Canadian border.
“I’m already emotional about it, just talking about being in the presence of the Pope, and [hearing him] say in his own words that Kateri is canonized, is the greatest thrill,” Grace Esquega, director of the aboriginal-focused Kitchitwa Kateri Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, told CBC News last week. She added that she had carefully chosen her regalia and was carrying an eagle feather to the Vatican.
“Kateri’s canonization is a very significant event, not only for the Mohawk faithful, but for Native people throughout North America…and beyond,” said Kahnawake Grand Chief Delisle Jr. in a statement. “We know that there will be millions of people sharing in the celebrations of this day. The fact that a quiet and unassuming woman of peace who died so long ago will be acknowledged and remembered at this level is something we can all be proud of.”
Below: "Archibishop Lopez Quintano, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, holds a basket made by Mohawk basketmaker Sheila Ransom that will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI by the Mohawk delegation to the canonization of Kateri Takakwith. To his right in the photo are Alma and Orlo Ransom; to his left are tribal police Detective Matt Rourke and former St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Chief Wally Oaks." (Gale Courey Toensing)