Kateri Tekakwitha is an important, controversial Kanien’kehá:ka woman living in the early days of Colonization.
Kateri was a common name in these parts, it appears. But most of them were never elevated to the fame of Saint Kateri – Sainte Catherine in French. I highly recommend this piece from Canada’s History in their April/May 2014 edition (click for the article)
Much of Indigenous history was written by men; White men – mostly missionaries. I’ve previously mentioned reading some of the first books published about us – the “Relations de Jésuites”.
Reconnecting Indigenous women to the Nations they came is an arduous task- fitting puzzle pieces of three Settler languages – Latin, French and English – several Indigenous languages, Nations who used no last names and lived semi and nomadic lifestyles and missionaries who named everything after Saints.
I feel it is a necessary exercise to find as much as I can about these grandmothers. History books rarely speak of the Indigenous grandmothers, great-aunts and cousins. Birth records offer scarce information about who they were, their community, nation, clan or kin. Meanwhile, their French, English, Scot or Orkneian partners and their male offspring often became famous – if only by their Voyageurs contracts with the fur trade.
I feel it is a necessary exercise to find as much as I can about these grandmothers – especially because my family’s oral history is so male-gendered-centric as to erase the very qualities of my Indigeneity.
At the Sillery Mission, many Nations coalesced, coming from afar to trade. Missionaries used the opportunity to introduce them to roman catholic teachings, convincing some to adopt the christian god. Eventually, First Nation women took Settler men as partners and the christian church recorded their unions, and the birth of their offspring.
Sometimes, missionaries wrote in French – sometimes they wrote in Latin. Retracing their steps becomes even more challenging:
For examples, here is the 1662 marriage record of my 8th great-grandmother – who was called Catherine La Huronne, Catherine Annennontak – Anenontha Anén:taks:
For whatever reason, Catherine is portrayed as a tragic “Sauvagesse” who was married off as a child who had plucked her from a convent where she was abandoned after the tragic death of her father, Nicolas ARENDAKE and the disappeance of her mother Jeanne OTRIH8NDET.
Here’s the thing: there’s no FEU (term meaning dead parents) near their names, and no mention that Catherine is a MINOR. No matter what language a record is written in, those are ALWAYS indicated on marriage records.
Catherine wasn’t a child. Catherine wasn’t an orphan. Catherine’s parents chose to have her EDUCATED. Catherine could READ and could WRITE.
Catherine also bore more than the name spelled many ways. In this retranscription of the registers of the Sillery Mission, Catherine is called “Sylvestri:
June 4, 1666
Moi, Ludovic Nicolas de la société de Jésus, en acte solennel du rite de baptême dans la chapelle de Sillery, une fille née récemment du mariage de Jean Duran et Catherine Sylvestri(3) Huron. Parrain était Stephane LeTellier et marraine Marie Meseret. Marie Catherine fût le nom donné à cette fille.
Catherine, Catharina gave birth to Marie Catharina – Kateri.
In the Relations des Jésuites, people “disappeared” and were assumed either killed or kidnapped by “bad guys”. Jesuits seemed adept at writing a narrative to illustrate the fierceness of Nations they felt were threatening any plans of assimilation…
Marie Catherine disappeared from the history books, assumed dead or kidnapped. But Kateri actually went on to live a Onkwehonwehné:ha life, married to Kanien’kehá:ka man named Nikanerahtá:á. Their descendants live across Kaniatarowanenneh – I greet them everyday as the sun rises at the Eastern Door.
Niawen’kó:wá for your kindness, Istén:’a as you shared your ancestry with me.
All My Relations.