When I was twelve years old, my family moved from Massachusetts to New York. I rarely think consciously about the cultural impressions that are part of my make-up because of the history that resides in me and shines through at certain moments. For example, stories of my childhood included visits to Plymouth Rock and stories of the pilgrims, to holidays like the Boston marathon commemoration of Paul Revere’s ride and all the historical places that told the stories of the early settlers like the first Thanksgiving where Native Americans and the pilgrims shared a grateful meal.
Moving to Central New York added a whole new vocabulary of places, towns like Syracuse, the “Salt City,” and those with more difficult names like Ouquaga, Onondaga, Oneida, and of people like Kateri Tekakwitha, known by Catholics as “Lily of the Mohawks.” I learned of the Five Tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy who live in New York State (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca) and the reservation – the Onondaga – that is located on the south side of Syracuse where I came to live and which gives its name to the County of Onondaga. I hold precious the customs of these Native peoples and the writings of their leaders that counterbalance stories of war that still sully the image of their entire history.
This reverie, as some of you may have guessed, was sparked by the fact that today we remember Kateri, canonized as saint—the first saint of the native peoples in the United States. I have been privileged to twice visit Auriesville, her home, which deepened my 13-year-old appreciation of her story and called my adult self to remember to note her place in any “tour” for Sisters of St. Joseph from across the USA who happen to be visiting our Albany Province.
I urge all of us to reflect on the gifts of the “First Nations” citizens in our country and to work for justice for all—their descendants and all who have come over the centuries to make up the tapestry of what should be the United States of America. May it be so in our time!