It seems like no one realizes that Tekakwitha lived a full life of learning and practicing our traditional culture and knew how to survive before she became a Catholic. There were missionaries who had learned our language and dialects among the Iroquois and she learned their prayers. At the age of 20, a Mohawk woman is very strong in her ways and determined when making a decision.
Consider my remarks for those people that might want to imply that Tekakwitha was abused or forced by the Missionaries as a child. She lived a full traditional life among our people. Growing up she was strongly supervised and groomed by her aunts and women of the village as all Indian women are taught. In Mohawk, mothers are Ista, aunts are Ista and also God-mothers are Ista (all mother figures to a child) so no one grows up an orphan. Tekakwitha was under the watchful eyes and care of Istas and she learned many things from all of them to be a model child of the Chief (her Uncle) so she had to know many things. She had to learn by example and practice thoroughly so that she could teach others.
Survival was practiced every day: Cooking involved sometimes getting the game, dressing it, preparing it for cooking, gather wood for a fire to cook. There is preparation of stored meats from game, sometimes drying it for later use or smoking it or salting it. Some game is for pelts or tanning for leather.
Part of survival is learning which plants are poison or safe and what is medicine. The Creator gave us fruits, berries of all sorts to sustain us but we must distinguish what is good and what is poison. Tekakwitha had to learn about the water animals and fish and fowl, how to catch them and how to prepare them. And this is a short list.
Then there were the ceremonies Tekakwitha had to learn and she learned many of those from her Uncle starting with preparing his pipe so the sweet smoke from groomed tobacco fields was fragrant. Her Uncle was preparing to send the smoke of highest fragrance to the Creator to get his attention before he gave thanks as it is still done in our culture today.
Foremost in our Ceremonies is Thanksgiving to the Creator for all that he gave us to sustain us and Tekakwitha knew and loved the Creator, whose name, at the age of 20 years, Tekakwitha, for herself, changed to Jesus Christ.
As an adult, even though she had poor sight and weakened by small pox, she had the energy and strength to go against tradition and to resist her relative’s efforts and pressures to convince her to marry and have children.
One can recognize the strong will she had when she decided to change. All her life she had been obedient, to love her neighbor, to love the Creator, to give daily thanksgiving to the Creator. To be charitable, respectful and she helped the elders, denied herself many pleasures, she did penance in order to be pleasing to the Creator with good examples. To Tekakwitha Jesus made sense.
Many generations of elders prayed for Kateri Tekakwitha to become a Saint because she had done many cures for them when they prayed to her after her death. From the day of her death she has been a Saint to the Mohawk, she had always been a holy person, an example to those who she lived amongst and to us who know her today.
As Mohawk Christians we have had devotion to Tekakwitha all our lives and gave thanks to the Creator for allowing our sister to intervene for us.
On July 18 to the 22, 2012 in Albany, Auriesville and Fonda, New York (where Tekakwitha spent her first 20 yrs) we will be holding our 73rd Annual Tekakwitha Conference and we expect 1,000 adult Catholic native people from across the hemisphere and who ever else can make the trip will be welcomed.
Alma Ransom served multiple terms as Elected Chief for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, served on the Executive Board of NCAI, had a career working for Employment Canada and for the last 32 years has worked with the Kateri Tekakwitha Conference and its efforts to have Takakwitha canonized. She and her husband Orlo will be traveling to the Vatican in the Fall to witness, with many hundreds of other Natives from around the world the making of a Saint.