On Oct. 21, 2012, Sister Kateri Tekakwitha (Mohawk-Algonquin), also known as Lily of the Mohawks, will be canonized at the Vatican in Rome, Italy, by Pope Benedict XVI. The event is an important one for Native Americans as Kateri will become America’s first indigenous saint, but locally, there is additional excitement: Joanne Shenandoah, of the Wolf Clan, Oneida, Iroquois Confederacy, and the Shenandoah Trio, which features her daughter Leah and sister Diana, have been invited to perform at the ceremony. But first they have to get there.
“Once we found out that she was going to be a saint,” Shenandoah says, “there were a good number of folks who said, ‘Well, are you going to sing for this? You’re an ambassador of the Iroquois, you’re a singer-songwriter, you’re Iroquois yourself.’ The organizers of the conference actually wrote me a beautiful letter saying that it was important to have these things and we’re just honored and thrilled.”
However, the great honor also comes with a heavy price. The trip to Italy is not provided, so Shenandoah took the initiative to organize an upcoming fundraiser to help jump-start the travel fund collection. The event will take place on Sunday, June 17, 4 p.m., at Hendricks Chapel on the Syracuse University campus.
The program will include a lecture from Doug George Kanentiio, Shenandoah’s husband and vice president of the Hiawatha Institute of Indigenous Knowledge. The focus will be on the history of Kateri as well as the prophecies of the traditional Iroquois culture in 2012. There will also be a concert from the Shenandoah Trio plus local guitarist Christopher Grener and local dulcimer player Chris Vescey, a performance from the Tawn Marie’s Dance Centre 2 in Baldwinsville and a display of artwork.
“We’re very much looking forward to it,” Shenandoah says. “We’re performing on Saturday, June 16, at the Clearwater
Festival in Westchester County and then we’re gonna blaze a trail back and get all ready for the Sunday event. I also thought it would be a nice thing for Father’s Day so people could get out.”
Kateri was only 24 when she died in 1680; she suffered from smallpox, which damaged her eyes and scarred her face. She was approved for canonization in 2006 when Jake Finkbonner, a 6-year-old boy in Washington state, developed a flesh-eating bacterium that attacked his face. Doctors didn’t think the boy could survive, but a priest decided to pray to Kateri as she too suffered from facial scars. Quickly after, the bacterium stopped spreading and Finkbonner recovered. He will also be present at the canonization in October.
“It’s all about miracles and believing in miracles, irrespective of what religion you are,” Shenandoah says. “We all would like to have faith in a better world and celebrate a human gift. It comes down to that. All across Native America people have mentioned her name, prayed to her name, look at her as good and kind. This is something we’re honoring on June 17.”Tickets are $15 and available at Armory Square’s Sound Garden, 310 W. Jefferson St. and Oneida Music, 135 Genesee St., Oneida. To make a tax-deductible donation or for more information, visit joanneshenandoah.com.