The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne have each contributed $25,000 to support the 73rd Annual Tekakwitha Conference. The St. Regis council presented its check April 10 to the Tekakwitha (pronounced De gag we ta) Conference planning committee as its members prepare for the annual event that will take place this year July 18-22 in Albany, New York.
The Tekakwitha Conference is the only national Catholic Native American/Aboriginal Religious Organization in North America. The conference was founded in 1939 and was incorporated in 1979 as a national non-profit organization with its national office in Great Falls, Montana.
The conference celebrates and honors Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk woman who will become the first indigenous woman of Turtle Island to be canonized by the Catholic Church in Rome on October 21, 2012.
The conference, which attracts both Native American Catholics and traditional Indigenous Peoples, has been held in different locations in the U.S. and Canada for years, but this year with Kateri’s canonization imminent, conference members asked to have the conference take place in the east to be near Kateri Tekawitha’s birthplace, said Alma Ransom, a former Mohawk chief who manages public relations for the Tekakwitha Conference. “The canonization of our patroness is what we’ve prayed for in all these conferences and now it’s coming to pass,” Ransom said.
Kateri Tekawitha was born in 1656 of a Christian Catholic Algonquin mother and a traditional Mohawk Chief in a village called Ossernenon (modern day Auriesville) along the Mohawk River, according to the Tekakwitha Conference website. Her parents and brother died in a smallpox epidemic that swept through the Mohawk village. She survived the disease but was left with impaired eyesight, a scarred face and body, and physical weakness. Orphaned at age four, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle and converted to Christianity in 1676. She took a vow of perpetual virginity and devoted the rest of her short life to teaching prayers to children and caring for the sick and elderly. Kateri died in April 1680 at the age of 20. Those at her deathbed believed they witnessed a miracle with the sudden disappearance of the smallpox scars on her face minutes after she died. Kateri was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII in 1932, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Last December, Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree recognizing a miracle performed by Kateri, and announced her forthcoming canonization.
Ransom said there is a need to publicize the Mohawk community’s continuity of Kateri Tekakwitha’s legacy. “You know, it’s kind of tough for some people to comprehend that there are still Mohawks here who have direct links to this person after 300 years. We speak the language she spoke, we say the prayers in the language she spoke and it’s quite an obligation to continue and help the other nations, but we are the link and there’s no getting away from it and we’re not shying away from it either. This is what we do,” Ransom said.
The conference opens with a grand entry of various Indian Nations from Canada and the U.S. Each parish and Kateri Praying Circle is named and acknowledged as the delegates pass the main stage. The entrance is made to the beat of traditional drums of various Indian nations. Local political officials give a major welcome ceremony. The opening ceremony is finished with prayers, meals and the meeting of old friends from many nations. Other conference activities include sun rise prayer services, daily masses, Mohawk children putting on plays about Kateri Tekakwitha’s life and numerous health services asking for Kateri’s help for cures. The event will also feature a pow-wow. The theme of this year’s conference is “Walking in the Footsteps of Kateri.” There will be bus tours to Kateri’s birthplace and place of baptism. A conference agenda is available at on the website.
Ransom, who has been involved with the Tekakwitha Conference since attending the event with her mother in 1980, said a huge number of people plan to attend this year’s conference. “Last fall when the Pope announced she would be canonized in 2012 the numbers just mushroomed and we’re overwhelmed by the number of registrants that are definitely coming,” Ransom said. Usually 600-700 people attend the conference, but there are already more than 1,000 people registered, she said. That’s a concern, she said, because it’s expensive to run the conference. The cost of the conference will exceed $70,000, which will go to tent and table rentals, transportation, meals and insurance. Transportation is a major item for travel from hotels to the Fonda Shrine, and to the Auriesville Shrine. These outings will feature large prayer services and meals after which attendees will return to their hotels in Albany.
The organization welcomes tax-deductible donations, which can be made out to the Tekakwitha Conference and sent to P.O. Box 6768 Great Falls, MT 59406-6768.