Lydia Johnson and Alan Quantrille stand on the land that they are hoping to build a spiritual center named after Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to become a Catholic saint. Johnson donated the land and traveled to Rome last month for the canonization mass.

Yakama Elder Talks About Kateri’s Canonization and What it Means to Native Catholics

Richard Walker

Kateri’s blessings followed Lydia Johnson from Wapato, Washington to Rome.

Johnson, Yakama/Cayuse, and 29 others from the Yakima Diocese–including Bishop Joseph J. Tyson–arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport October 18 for their flight to Rome to witness the canonization of the first Native American Catholic saint, but their flight was cancelled when, according to Johnson, the plane wouldn’t start. The group had to spend the night in Seattle for a flight the next day.

The blessing? “It was better than being on the plane in the air when it doesn’t start,” she laughed.

Then, in Rome, the travel agent insisted that the active 92-year-old use a wheelchair. Amid an estimated 80,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, the wheelchair kept her from being jostled by the crowd.

And, on that fall day, “the weather was beautiful,” Johnson said. “Clear skies, there were no yellow leaves at all, everything was green.” It was a day befitting Kateri, the young Mohawk woman who loved to commune with God in the woods and is today, according to the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, the “patron of people who love nature, work in ecology, and preserve the natural and human environments.”

Jake Finkbonner Kateri Canonization

Johnson is believed to be the only Native American from the Yakima Diocese to witness the canonization of Kateri, who was credited with healing a Lummi Indian boy from a deadly flesh-eating disease in 2006. The boy, Jake Finkbonner, now 12, and his family attended the canonization and received communion from Pope Benedict XVI.

Johnson didn’t get to meet Jake in Rome, but she hopes to someday meet the boy who lives because of a miracle. “We are blessed to have a miracle in the Northwest,” she said.

After the canonization, the Yakima group traveled in Italy, visiting churches in other cities, including Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis (1181-1226), who founded the Franciscan religious order there in 1208; St. Clare (1194-1253), the founder of the Order of Poor Clares; and St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838-1862).

Johnson returned to Yakama energized by the canonization. She has been devoted to Kateri since 1944, when she learned of Kateri while working as a nurse in Providence Hospital in Seattle. Pope Pius XII had declared Kateri to be venerable, a step toward sainthood, the previous year, piquing public interest in this Native American woman who suffered for her faith.

Johnson attends St. Peter Claver Church in Wapato, on the Yakama Nation Reservation, and is active in the Kateri Circle, a group of Native Catholics that meets monthly. She has attended the national Kateri Tekakwitha Conference annually since 1981; the conference serves Catholic Indigenous people and church personnel who minister in North America and other countries.

Johnson is president of the board of directors of the Northwest Kateri Tekakwitha Spiritual Center, which plans to build to a special place for Catholics and others to gather in Wapato for special Masses, retreats, healing services, and workshops. The center will have a chapel, fellowship hall, classrooms, kitchen, office, and laundry room.

Johnson donated five acres for the center; as of this writing, $166,000 of the $3 million needed has been raised. She is writing grant applications and hopes construction will begin in spring.

“We’re going to concentrate on bringing the fallen away, especially Indians, back,” she said. There will be Masses of thanksgiving for Kateri’s canonization. “We’ll be praying to her for healing and evangelization,” she said.

In an earlier interview, Johnson said this 17th century Mohawk woman of faith is an example of how God has always had a relationship with the First Peoples of this continent, has always recognized their spirituality and faith despite post-contact pronouncements from his European-American followers that indigenous people were heathens.

She wants Native Americans today to know this: “We have a saint, someone to follow the example of–the example of her faith and her persistence in keeping her faith.”

Related article:

Blessed Kateri Canonization Provides Hope for Yakama Elder

Lummi Boy Whose Recovery Was Decreed a Miracle Attributed to the Help of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Travels to Rome to Meet the Pope

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Paganism   After speaking to many of my elders near and far I find myself in an area that demands what some would term telling the truth as passed down by our elders from a time not that far off. So lend me your time and then you the reader decide for yourself. When I was young growing up in the longhouse the elders would begin to tell of a story of how we came to be in Kahn awake, and our history as told by many and acknowledged also by many, however the one item that stands out the most is the slaughter that was planned for our people in the 1600’.s They spoke of when a woman by the name of Kateri who was a favorite of one of the Jesuit priests and how he would share many a secret and bed with her. On one of his many visits with her, he told her of an impending raid and that she should warn those close to her to go to the church on this certain day and gain shelter and they would be protected . So this she did and from there the word spread to the people and to the warriors who were charged with the protection of the people. They sent out their pickets(scouts) towards mercier and once the enemy was found they were to engage the enemy from the south and at the same time a large force from Lachine was attacking Kahn awake. So the warriors gathered and prepared for the ensuing battle. Our men met the force that marched from ormstown barracks and warred them to the point where they had no choice but to retreat back to ormstown leaving many of their brothers dead on the plains of Chateauguay. After this battle the warriors of Kahn awake were making their way back to Kahn awake noticed a glow against the night sky which only meant that Kahn awake was under attack. They said as they got close they could hear the shots and the screams but they were to late to do to much good other than to put out fires and to prepare for burying the dead and to begin the rebuilding of Kahn awake. The people believed they had safety on their side since Kahn awake was a safe zone, a gift of king Louis the xiv. Real generous of the king to give something that doesn't belong to him and that already belongs to those he was giving it to. They didn’t believe the French would attack from the north shore since Kahn awake was a gift from the French king to the Mohawk nation peoples that fought for the French . This era is known as the hundred years war which culminated into the great peace of Montréal. Unfortunately for the Jesuits and the French, this attack would change everything. In the short time after this raid many things began to happen. The woman that warned the people of the impending raid was found dead. Beaten to death . However the Jesuits said the angles came down to get her to cover up their part in the crime . We were told of how our people began their investigation as to the murder and the culprits behind these crimes. A lot of these elements are recorded in the Jesuits hand and a lot is left to the word of our people. What was never mentioned was the span of time since our people never used the white mans clocks. Just as many of us do not today ,we are task orientated. So by the time our people found out all the players, they were dealt with. Some of the priests had been tied, put in canoes and sent down river never to be seen again. Many of the records indicate that a one father Jacobs was in fact one that was given to the river, while others had been sent to what is known as Kahnasatake where these priest would live out their lives in solitude under a contingent of warriors and their family’s. Well you can see what happened there. By the time our people had made ready to exact revenge on those that did the attack on Kahn awake . The Mohawks had mustered a force from what is known as Akwasasne to the tune of a few thousand who would cross the river at night somewhere near valley field and land near Dorval and begin the attack on Lachine . History would label this as the Lachine massacre august 5 1689. The Jesuits logged it as a retaliation for French raids against our people or as their history books tell against Iroquois villages. Their books also tell of the alleged death of the woman called kateri April 17 1680. I don t believe any one disputes her untimely demise. What is a point of contention is how and why and who was at the heart of her demise. To date I believe the history books in the hand of the Jesuits and how they record things is very contentious since nothing is further from what might really be the truth, and given the choice over the word of our people who do not lie, there can only be one truth as native people when speaking of the dead those before us. We are told that we do not mention their names so as not to call them back here, and that we do not disturb their spirit walk and that they go to the creator in peace. Yet people here keep calling her back. With all this being said I guess the only words to say is that people have to come to terms with is. Why I say this is based in the fact that in numerous sites the Jesuits claim they have bones of this woman on display. If this is so she must have been somewhere between 8 - 11 foot tall to have that many bones. What fraud is bestowed upon the people according to history they tell of how this woman was cremated and what little was left was buried. So now we are at a point of truth. Will she be made a saint to cover up her brutal murder in which lives the fraud of her existence? So I ask you are you banging in the nails or hanging on the cross of killers? Written and complied by Keith Myiow Khan awake Territory 2012