Fleur-de-la-Prairie   -   Prairie Flower
Wahwahsekona
The Algonquin Mother of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

by
Norm Léveillée


Version française

There has been much written about Kateri Tekakwitha. She is called the "Lily of the Mohawks" because she belonged to the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois nation. There is an extensive bibliography of works on this saintly Indian maiden. Most authors emphasize her Mohawk affiliation. They may, at times, mention in passing her Algonquin heritage. However, there is very little known and written about her Algonquin mother who was baptized a Catholic. Most prayers to her do not mention her Christian Algonquin influence.

I contend that Tekakwitha's spirituality is due primarily to, if not almost solely on, the influence of her mother's Catholic faith imparted to her daughter during the first four years of Tekakwitha's life. What three or four year old child is not aware of what her mother is doing, in this case kneeling and praying to the Great Spirit as taught to her by the Black Robes? I am sure that she quizzed her mother. If not, how then could she have not been influenced by the Mohawk custom for a young maiden, which was to marry and carry out her duties as an Indian wife and mother? It is true, however, that Tekakwitha's mystical and saintly life was planted in her by the Great Spirit and subsequently enriched by the teachings of the Black Robes. She did live in the Christian Mohawk village of Kahnawaké in Québec where she received her first communion, practiced her Catholic religion and finally died there. However, there were Christians from other tribes as well in that "Praying Village".
I am asking the reader to study the following text and decide for oneself if my contention has value.

Some authors have named her mother Kahenta or Kahontáke (Meadow). I will use Fleur-de-la-Prairie (Prairie Flower) from Juliette Laverne's La Vie gracieuse de Catherine Tekakwitha1. The Algonquian word "Pittaraski8ssi" which means "Flower of the Earth" could very well be the native name of this Algonquin woman. In the Ojibway language, Prairie Flower would be "Wahwahsekona".

Tekakwitha's contemporary authors, Jesuit Fathers Claude Chauchetière and Pierre Cholenec have made short references to Tekakwitha's Algonquin mother. Father Cholence in his Preface and Book One of Life of Catherine Tekakwitha, First Iroquois Virgin,2 translated by Father William Lonc, S.J., wrote:

...Her mother was Algonquin and had been baptized and educated among the French in Trois-Rivières. She was seized there by the Iroquois with whom we were at war at that time, and taken as a slave to Iroquois territory. She lived there and after a little while was married to a native of the place, and had two children: a son, and a daughter, Catherine.

It is told how this virtuous woman -- as in other times that holy man Tobias -- kept her faith and love for God even in captivity, that she prayed every day, right to her last breath, but she had neither the opportunity nor the consolation to pass on her deep faith to her two children. If she had the joy of bringing them into the world, she had the sorrow of having to leave the world without being able to baptize them, this being her only desire.

... Small pox was sweeping through the Iroquois country making many victims, and Catherine's mother was caught up in this wide-spread disaster, leaving her children still at a young age and incapable of taking care of themselves. She prayed to Him who was their Creator to now be their Father and take them under His divine protection. We will see later that God heard her just prayer with regards to Catherine. Her brother fell ill within a short time and died. Catherine had also contracted the disease, but the Lord, having selected her to one day be His bride and to display in her the marvels of His grace, rescued her from this danger.

From the above reference Her mother was Algonquin and had been baptized and educated among the French in Trois-Rivières, we can rightly surmise that she belonged to the Algonquin Weskarini Band of Sachem Carolus Pachirini.3 This band of Algonquins were for the most part baptized in Montréal, and the rest later at Trois-Rivières, as they separated from the rest of the Algonquins who continued up the Ottawa River. The Weskarini finally settled in Trois-Rivières, setting up their village near the Fort there. This was a time when the Iroquois were at war with the Algonquins. When the enemy attacked the area, the women and children were able to seek shelter in the Fort while the braves joined the soldiers in repelling the attack.

During a surprised attack, around 1652-1653, the Mohawks captured several Algonquin women and children. They also killed many braves and soldiers who were defending the Fort and the Indian village of Weskarini. As I wrote in both

A Litany to My Cousin
and
Marie Mite8ameg8k8e Couc
This author's eighth great-grandmother
,

among those killed with Mite8ameg8k8e's husband Asababich and among those captured by the Mohawks, were Mite8ameg8k8e's two children and also several women, one of whom was to become Tekakwitha's mother.

The best Algonquin background of Tekakwitha's mother I found was in La Vie Gracieuse de Catherine Tekakwitha - The Graceful Life of Catherine Tekakwitha - written in French by Juliette Lavergne in 1934.1 I will summarize or translate literally this background, basing myself on the beautiful and descriptive French language, written by Juliette Laverne, in the Introduction to her masterpiece.

Prologue

In the first chapter,The Engagement of the Algonquin woman, the author begins by describing the scene of the attack of the Mohawks at Trois-Rivières. Many members of the tribe fell under the attack of its most cruel enemy, the Iroquois.

An immense fire turned the forest into a crimson light. Clamors of rage and despair leaped out from every part and then melted into mournful echoes. An entire tribe had just succumbed to the blows of its most cruel enemy. This scene took place near the town of Trois-Rivières.

An Iroquois party wishing to revenge the death of one of its own just finished this sad expedition. They, more numerous than the peaceful and trusting Algonquins, had easily gained a surprising victory. Now, they were leaving the area, dragging captives to be tortured and killed, in all cruelty and reserved to the conquering. The war cries finally subsided and the flames died out. The pleading of the dying also had ceased. The night in the village had become absolutely silent, dead like its inhabitants.

... Under a clear moon, a young native chief, a feathered diadem around his head and a belt of scalps surrounding his waist, looked around at the mournful sight before him. He picked up his hatchet and tomahawk and moved toward a group of mutilated bodies. He studied them and broke out into a satisfactory smile ... the enemy had been massacred ... his revenge had been accomplished.

... A small movement brought him back from his pride-filled reverie. The astonished chief turned toward this moving body. A woman, a young girl rather, was moving toward a body. She was crying, as she embraced the dead brave who was so dear to her. She was unaware of the danger posed by the presence of the Iroquois.

The chief looked at this woman with surprise and then again at the mutilated body. The young girl, very beautiful, was not unknown to him. He had already seen her on several hunting or war expeditions. He had kept a very warm memory of her. He just discovered the family link between the young woman and the dead brave; it was a sister-brother relationship.

The Indian tried to remain impassive. However, deeply troubled, he looked at the sorrowful scene and he was touched. He approached quietly and took the arm of the Algonquin woman and raised her gently.

He, named Cerf (Stag), said to her that she must follow him because she now belonged to him. Her eyes filled with tears, she answered that she had only this brother and they had killed him. He responded that someone from her tribe had killed his father, the Grand Chief. Now, she was alone and she belonged to him. The young woman froze with terror at these words; she wanted him to kill her instead of enslavement. She did not fight back as was the case with other captives. The chief was astonished at her bravery and passive acceptance of her defeat.

Cerf looked deeply into the eyes of the Algonquin woman. There was emotion in his look. This woman would not be the humble slave roughly treated by her abductor. She would be his companion. She would have the same rights as all Iroquois wives. His wife? He had the power to do this. But what was happening to him?

The young woman looked up at him and thought that she knew what was going on in his heart. Cerf repeated the order to follow him. She obeyed after having hugged the body of her brother whom she was leaving behind.

Finally Cerf arrived in his village, followed by this captive. With pride, he displayed the trophies of his victory - the many scalps of the Algonquins. He narrated his story to the Elders seated around the council fire. Such was the demeanor of a young and valiant chief: praising himself before his equals, inflexible with the enemy, humble and deferential in the presence of Elders.

That night, the Algonquin woman knelt and prayed before the longhouse of Cerf. During the trip to his village, she had hardly spoken a word to him. She had been engrossed in her sorrows, reliving the sad lot of her present life and remembering the horrific scenes of the attack. When Cerf arrived at his longhouse, he saw her kneeling there. He asked what she was doing, understanding nothing of what he saw before him. Filled with the pride of her Algonquin race, she declared that she was praying to the Great Spirit because she was Christian and she listened to the Black Robes. She told him that she would not be his slave; she would accept death over enslavement. Had Cerf understood?

He indicated that she could ease her mind. She would not be his slave but his wife. Without a word, she entered his longhouse. As Cerf was smoking near the fire, he was thinking of what was happening in this, his primitive soul. These children of the forest were capable of hating with an incredible savagery and still they found within themselves an astonishing reserve of love and devotion.

Strange feelings took over the soul of this young chief. He was dreaming of new things. This young woman would become his companion for life, this young woman with a noble attitude, a pride with words which equaled his own nature. He wondered what inspired the conduct of this Algonquin woman who was so different than the other Indian women! Was it the extraordinary words of the Black Robes which influenced in this way those who listened to them?

Finally, as the fires of the other longhouses slowly faded into the night, Cerf entered his own longhouse. The young girl came to him and offered him sagamité - a dish favored by the natives and one which a future wife offered to her companion of tomorrow ... Together, they ate the evening meal and it was in this manner that took place the eve of the engagement of the Christian Algonquin and the Iroquois chief, Cerf, warrior among his own people.

In Chapter Two the author describes Happiness and Nostalgia.

Three years later ... Cerf lived in a longhouse built according to Indian tradition, usually centered within a huge clearing. There, many families and at times, the entire tribe lived. The longhouses were often moved from one location to another, or at times simply abandoned4, as a new village was built further away. The chief's longhouse was usually built close to the forest, where the Indian can find shade and a great tranquility of absolute solitude. He can also find game as needed, an impromptu and bloody encounter but often victorious, and the pleasure, enjoyed by all, to hang before the longhouse, pelts freshly cut from the vanquished. It is among these things that Cerf surrounded his life. But since his marriage, he also loved, and maybe above all else, his Fleur-de-la-Prairie (Prairie Flower). The Algonquin, on her part, attached herself emotionally and physically to him who treated her as a dear wife ... Since Cerf lived with his captive of yesteryear, a world of new emotions filled his soul. The young Indian chief admired the Christian Algonquin. Capable of hating without problem, of massacring without pity, he fully understood that he was capable of protecting, condescending and greatly loving ...

The young wife really felt the profound affection of her husband Cerf. But the poor Algonquin woman still missed her village, the beautiful and majestic forest surrounding it, the immense and spirited waters which sang and leaped near her longhouse. Secretly, she cried for her family and friends who were massacred, her valiant tribe humiliated and vanquished.

A mysterious pain began to attack, little by little, the courage of this daughter of the forest. A look of melancholy and fatigue could be seen in the beautiful eyes of Fleur-de-la-Prairie. She appeared distant, her walk was less lively, she no longer sought the joyful society of the young women of the tribe.

In Chapter Three, Dangerous Rival, Juliette Laverne describes the bitter rivalry between the once friendly l'Aile-de-Corbeau (Crow Wing), another young brave of the Turtle Clan, and Cerf. They were friends for a long time. The rivalry began as a result of a dishonest process in the sale of furs by Aile-de-Corbeau. Cerf chided his friend for his dishonesty. This was not well taken by his friend. Fleur-de-la-Prairie noticed on many occasions how Aile-de-Corbeau looked with an evil eye on her husband. She prayed to the Great Spirit, asking for his help in settling the dispute.

In Chapter Four, Feuille-Qui-Tremble, Flickering Leaf, the author describes a woman who was very old and infirm. She was considered a sorceress by some. She was being cared for by the young Christian Algonquin, who tried to teach her about the Great Spirit. This old woman had helped Fleur-de-la-Prairie when she first came to the village after her capture. The young Christian woman never forgot what this aged Indian did for her. Aile-de-Corbeau came frequently to this elderly woman to seek her advice and predictions for his future activities - hunting and fishing.

The rivalry eventually led to The Terrible Combat, in Chapter Five, between the two once-friendly braves. Feuille-Qui-Tremble, the woman Elder whom Fleur-de-la-Prairie had befriended and had taught about the Great Spirit who sent his son to save the people, noticed that something was bothering Aile-de-Corbeau. Upon his return from a hunt, he was agitated. He asked the sorceress what will happen between himself and Cerf. The old woman told him that she no longer wanted to hear him speak ill of her other "adopted" son, the younger Cerf. She no longer wanted to be considered a sorceress. She had found solace in the Algonquin's words about the Great Spirit as taught by the Black Robes. Tired of her words, Aile-de-Corbeau attacked her. Cerf, returning also from a hunt, heard her cries and bolted into her longhouse. He pulled the attacker from Feuille-Qui-Tremble and began to do battle with his new enemy. The old woman managed to help Cerf by scratching the eyes of Aile-de-Corbeau so that Cerf was able to subdue and slay his opponent.

Many seasons passed by from the changing of colors of the leaves, snow covered terrain to the newly emerging plant life on the American soil. The tribe, whose chief Cerf was now uncontested, moved again its village to a new area. Despite the tragic events that occurred three years earlier, nothing altered the happiness between the Cerf and the Algonquin. However, something else was added to their happy life. One can find Fleur-de-la-Prairie working in the fields; and on her shoulders rests the head of a little baby boy who is sleeping and whose body is cradled in the Indian manner as his mother works. Not very far from this scene, a young girl (of four years) is trying to string beads on the beginning of a necklace.

Chapter Six deals with The Last Ordeal.

God has plans for all of us. While this happy family was cheered by the presence of the two children, a terrible event was to happen to the entire tribe and would also involve Fleur-de-la-Prairie, Cerf and the little baby boy...

The year was 1660. An epidemic of smallpox ravished the Indians. Unable to arrest it, ignorant of the least practices of hygiene and not having even the basic medical knowledge to conquer this terrible malady, the Indians died by the hundreds and the contagious disease spread to nearby villages.

Fleur-de-la-Prairie lavished her care and devotion on those around her. She was a good person and nothing had altered her fervent Christian faith. She consoled, she soothed often with the name of the Great Spirit on her lips.

One evening, coming into his longhouse, Cerf felt that it had reached his turn now. The Algonquin watched over, with anguish, her chief. Long days went by, filled first with fear then with hope. Little by little, Fleur-de-la-Prairie felt her strength diminishing. While Cerf lay dying, she had to drag herself to him to bid her supreme adieu. She had just enough time and strength to pour a little water on his forehead.

Exhausted by grief and disease, she fell on the body of the great chief whom she had just baptized a Christian. Fleur-de-la-Prairie found the strength from above to never be separated from him who had so loved her and her last-born, who had died the night before, without her knowing about his death, in the longhouse of a woman who had taken the baby boy out of pity and had taken care of him.

Next to her parents, asleep in an eternal slumber, a poor little girl moved, also very ill and now alone, abandoned from everyone here below.

Part One - Tekakwitha with the Mohawks

Chapter I "Alone...!"

Long hours had passed since the tragic events of the preceeding chapters. The poor little Indian girl was still alone next to two bodies. She cried for a long time, trying to wake her maman from her deep sleep. Without success, she called out to her father, the great chief so tender-hearted with his child but so terrible toward his enemies. But Cerf and his valiant companion still were in this strange sleep. Nothing changed in their rigid position... Then a sort of stupor, an anguish overtook the child. Although very intelligent, she was however only four years old but understood the great mystery of this sleep without awakening... Remembering what her mother had told her about the hereafter where those who are no longer living on earth go, she joined her hands burning with fever in prayer and raising her eyes filled with tears toward the heavens filled with bright stars. Then, tired from grief and fatigue, she finally fell asleep, her head resting on the head of Fleur-de-la-Prairie. (Bold lettering added by the Editor. NAL)

She awoke at the first light of dawn. People were going and coming, talking near her. The child was now suffering too much and too weak to move or cry out. She could vaguely see persons entering in the longhouse. Three or four women with tears and gestures gathered around Fleur-de-la-Prairie.

They were conducting the final burial preparations of the young woman. In fact, following the Indian customs, they spread a greasy substance on the face and long hair of the Algonquin woman. They adorned her with colorful necklaces and bracelets. Finally, they covered the body with animal fur carefully prepared for this event.

During this time, a small group of Indian men were talking in whispers about the funeral covering of the Cerf.

They were visibly shaken. Certainly, this death had already created a profound void in their valorous ranks. But who could ever replace a chief so skilled, so audacious as Cerf whose renowned bravery extended way beyond the furthest tribes from their own...?

While the most sincere eulogies fell like slow and melancolic litanies from the quasi fraternal lips, alone, one man had kept silent. With an imposing stature, an impassive air, he looked without saying a word, without moving, at the calm and beautiful face of the young warrior... Around this man completely absorbed in thought, one appeared to want to respect this great sorrow, silent and lofty in the Indian manner. In effect, the sorrow of the silent visitor was profound, and he could not resign himself to see the hope and pride, the great affection of his life departing with the young chief... A faint shiver woke him from his sorrowful dream. With an urgent gesture, he signaled to those around to remove the bodies and pointed out the place where, in the forest, would lay to rest forever the Cerf and his dear companion, Fleur-de-la-Prairie.

Then, without looking back, he left the longhouse carrying in his arms the little orphan shivering in her blanket.

It was Cerf's uncle, who, without any other formality, adopted the orphan.

Chapter II "A New Life"

This man, well considered in the tribe, answered to the name of Grand-Loup or Great Wolf. Tireless runner, vivacious and unbelievably light on his feet, he had kept in his old age his gifts of hunter and invincible warrior. He had no children. Also, he was greatly attached to his nephew, who always showed attention and deference toward him. There were two reasons why he took Cerf's daughter to his home: affection for him, and then interest. For, one must admit, absolute disinterest is strongly rare... and our Indian brothers were not superior to us in this regard... A daughter was greatly appreciated by the Iroquois.
The women and girls, wrote one of Tekakwitha's biographers (Father Lecompte, S.J.), are the greatest resources of an Indian family. For them, the concern for domestic care, the hardest work. Regarding the man's part, it was war, hunting or fishing. The rest of the time, he spent smoking, chatting with friends, playing, drinking, eating and sleeping.
The women had much to do, for, in addition to the domestic chores, they must also carry out heavy work. Often, they went to get the game killed by their father, brother or husband. They had to drag them if they were too heavy, carry them on their shoulders if they were not heavy. Then, they had to skin the game, which they prepared for selling. They cooked the meat and used the bones as ornaments or useful items.

In addition, contrary to the custom of the white man, it is the Indian husband who followed the woman in her family, and not the bride to the groom.

Marriage, wrote the above cited author, is all for the profit of the bride's family. It is a hunter and a warrior that the family gains. The aged parents look upon him, with reason, as a permanent resource for their later years and, if he is a brave warrior, as a reflection of glory upon their family.

For all these reasons, the young girl was therefore greatly welcomed by her two aunts, the two sisters, of whom one was the wife of Great Wolf.

The child was well taken care of and when spring arrived the convalescent was able to leave the longhouse, see once again the American forest and the beautiful budding trees. With gentleness, the little neighbor girls invited the new arrival to join with them in singing and playing. This one accepted with pleasure, for she was very kind and cheerful. However, she had trouble with daylight; she was frail and sensitive to cold. One day, one of the little Indian girls, laughing, said to her:

Put your blanket over your eyes; without that you will be caught in the game like an owl is caught in the sun!

Joking aside, the idea appeared a good one to the child, for she was never seen without her blanket, a craft diligently created by Fleur-de-la-Prairie for her dear little daughter.

And the days passed, and our heroine grew, intelligent and lively, skilled in all sorts of manual labor carried out habitually by the Indian women. However, she still had delicate health, and her reduced eyesight made her walk with hesitant gait. From that moment on, she was called Tekakwitha or Tegakouita, which means in Iroquois: "she who walks searching in front of self". She kept this name right up to her baptism, which would take place later on.

Tekakwitha loved to isolate herself, to remain for long hours in her longhouse, something that was very rare among the natives. There, she worked, and her work was the admiration of her aunts. She sang, and people would willingly stop to listen to the pretty, sweet voice; but the people could hardly understand the words of the strange hymn of the young girl. It is because she had kept a memory of several hymns sung by Fleur-de-la-Prairie... God allowed these things to return to Tekakwitha's memory. (Ed.)

She was in the habit of spending a lot of time thinking about her former life, near her dear mother... Little by little, she found again other precious memories. Alone, without a missionary near her, without any guide to teach these sacred things, the child, within herself, prayed, loved, reflected... She was a fervent Christian way before the baptismal water would flow upon her forehead. (Ed.)

But what are you doing there in the longhouse, Tekakwitha? asked her aunts often, not understanding her taste for solitude and silence in an Indian girl.

To which she answered gracefully:

I work and my spirit sees beautiful things. Does my mother wish that I come?

For she always obeyed gracefully and eagerly. Since work was always carried out in an admirable fashion in the longhouse and this greatly simplified the aunts' chores... she was left to act according to her liking and very willingly.

And it is thus that the Great God of the Blackrobes leaned toward the child of the forest, speaking Himself to her heart and prepared her to become the exquisite Flower of the Mohawk, the admirable little Iroquois girl whose life if now being studied in Rome in light of her soon to be beatification. (1935, Ed.)

Chapter III "A Plot"

Following a curious custom in Iroquois country, when Tekakwitha attained her eight year, she was engaged to a young boy of her age. She understood nothing of this strange engagement. She believed, as well as her young companion, that it was a question of some kind of a strange game. She continued her life as a young girl as if nothing involved her in a new life. And the years passed. The little promised girl without knowing it had heard about Algonquin or Huron captives brought into the tribe by Iroquois warriors. These Christians had willingly enlightened the child on many things. So well, that she dreamed of nothing else but a life completely consecrated to prayer, work, solitude. She promised herself that she would refuse all offers of marriage proposed to her.

But the aunts had spoken a lot with the female parents, friends and neighbors. They bragged about the spirit of work, of grace, of the pleasing disposition of Tekakwitha. Smallpox had left traces here and there on her face, that was true. But on the other hand, she was well fit. "And certain experienced women added, that you can always put color on her face? She wore no necklaces, nor bracelets. Let her adorn her head and throw away her blanket."

The Fox, one elder provided, spoke well of Tekakwitha and I heard him. He is a young warrior already respected by the Elders. He is of an age to take on a wife.
The Fox! exclaimed the aunts, could hardly contain himself with joy! Let him come! We will give him Tekakwitha, for her childhood fiancé died a while ago. We are old now in the longhouse. We must quickly set up our niece.

Happy with the role that was given to her, the Elder woman promised that she would speak with the Fox and without a doubt he would not wait long to come asking for Tekakwitha in marriage.

Mysteriously, the great interview between the two young people was being prepared.

The Fox dreamed of offering rich gifts to Tekakwitha, to the uncle and aunts. He prepared with pleasure what he had best to charm the eyes of his fiancée. Feathers, furs, tattoos, weapons... here is what was elegant and attractive to a promised Indian

Chapter IV "The Flight Into The Night"

Not far from the village where Tekakwitha lived, there was an attractive spring, flowing clearly and melodiously beneath an old tree trunk covered with velvety moss.

This spring is still there today "and, wrote Father Lecompte, the erudite biographer of the Iroquois virgin, legend baptized it with the graceful name of "Tekakwitha's Spring".


This etching represents Tekakwitha in a prayerful pose at the foot of the cross and compares her to the lily of the fields. 6
Each morning ---and this for about nine years --- the young girl came to fetch water from the sring. She would stop, at times, and leaning on one of the tress of the immense forest, and join her hands in prayer, looking up at the sky in a reflective mood. For Tekakwitha learned only of God, virtue, all beauty of the hereafter. I say alone, but I am mistaken. No one here below taught her catechism, but God spoke to the ingenuous soul of the Iroquois woman. He allowed her to forget nothing of her maternal lessons... (Ed.) He still allowed her to have, without any help from the earth, great enlightment and an immense love for sacred things. So well that the child of the forest, like the little Thérèse de Lisieux, "meditated", alone, silently, the latter hidden behind the curtain of a little white bed, the former covered with a blanket weaved of wooden beads or shells near a spring which sang out and beneath the trees of a forest quasi deserted.

At times, she would meet young Indians who would hardly notice this "Indian woman" always half covered with her blanket because of her weakened eyesight. Very few greeted her amicably. The Fox and two or three other young natives sharing a friendship or being neighbors with Tekakwitha's family had naturally noticed the activity of the Iroquois woman, her gracious and tireless indulgence, qualities rather rare among the Indian women, who worked when forced to do so, but prefered much more, instead of domestic chores, the chats outside of the longhouse, the noisy parties of pleasure with songs, cries and dances.

Tekakwitha was always very kind and, one would say, "willingly cheerful". But, also as much with the women as with the men, without an afterthought, she remained modest and reserved.

Not knowing her well, one would believe that she would willingly welcome the advances of a fiancé.

The Fox was delighted to enter into one of the most respected families of the tribe and to have soon a hardworking companion with an agreable disposition. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be welcome with much eagerness, for he was very handsome, brave and skillful, feared by the enemy.

The big day finally arrived.

Then, at an early morning hour, Tekakwitha, as usual, came to the spring to fetch water from the pretty fountain. She prayed for a long time and she thought suddenly that she would never want to change, for another way of existence, her life of prayer, of her humble devotion to her own, of hard work but done without a word, submitting herself with filial devotion to the Great Spirit who was asking that of her...

Then, she felt like she was completely bathed in a great mysterious joy. She went into the longhouse, peacefully and so radiant that one of her aunts was struck by this and naturally very intrigued. Curious like all Indian women, she questioned her niece. But Tekakwitha did not want to reveal her dear secret. She answered gently that spring was beautiful, that the birds and the spring were singing together and that she also, would sing willingly all day long. This being said, she began to work while singing in a quiet way the hymns that her mother had taught her. (Ed.)

Delighted, the aunt clapped her hands and looked with a good disposition the uncle and the other aunt, who were smiling also with absolutely satisfying expressions.

Evening came, calming the animation of the village, extinguishing little by little the fires in front of the longhouses, producing a more somber and silent forest. In Tekakwitha's longhouse, the evening meal was ending without haste, everyone chatting. In the middle of the longhouse, the burning log was slowly dying. However it still was lighting the family group with joyous and dancing reflections.

All of a sudden, the Fox entered, smiling and eager. A place was made for him near the center. And, almost haphazardly, he found himself next to the young girl, who paid no attention to this, because her spirit was elsewhere.

The chatting was filled with cordiality and interest, at least for those who were most interested.

Absent-mindedly, Tekakwitha answered with a smile.

Then, as if it were nothing, one of the aunts asked her niece to offer a dish to their distinguished visitor...

Then, like a lightning bolt, a thought swept through the spirit of the young Iroquois, frightening her, distressing her. This man seated near her, he was her fiancé. The offer of a dish was a gesture accepting the husband. The formula was simple, and the ceremony short, but that is how things were done among the Indians. Soon, she would be the wife of the Fox. She would belong not only to the Great Spirit, to the God of the Black Robes, as she had thus resolved this morning to do... She believed that she saw near her the smile of her dear and heroic mother, Fleur-de-la-Prairie. (Ed.)

Without a word, knowing that she would be forced to obey, she dashed out of the longhouse and fled into the forest, aimlessly, overcome with fear and sorrow, alone, poor little Christian into the obscurity of the night and the solitude of the forest, more alone still, in this tribe of strong and indomitable pagans who knew of only two things in life: pleasure and war.

Chapitre V "Sous La Garde de L'Aigle".

After having run in this manner for a long time, Tekakwitha could no longer do it. Out of breath, she finally fell down at the feet of a gigantic Inidan. The Eagle picked her up and looked at her with surprise. He asked her why she was fleeing into the night. She asked him not to betray her. She explained to him what had happened to her. After having listened to her attentively, the Eagle told her to hide in his longhouse, under a pile of animal skins. And he himself went into the longhouse.

A little while later, the Fox, furious and humiliated, followed by the aunts, the uncle and a whole group of curious people, came to ask the Eagle if he had seen his fiancée. The Eagle pointed out hard-packed leaves and told them to go in that direction and the Spirits would guide their steps!

He listened... The sound of voices and steps diminished in the distance. Then, heading toward the pile of skins, he helped Tekakwitha who was in a half faint to get out of her hiding place.

---Rest yourself, he said.

He feigned not hearing her thanks, but he gave her some food.

Encouraged by the care of the Eagle, the young Iroquois told him her humble story. Tekakwitha's candor astounded the Indian. He remained indecisive, frustrated.

For a long time, he meditated, then slowly, he declared:

---My daughter will stay here and rest without fear. The Eagle will keep watch in front of the longhouse... At sunup, Tekakwitha will have to hide again here. But the Eagle will still listen. He will speak with the Fox and with the parents...

 

Chapter VI "Diplomacy"

At dawn, as the sun was breaking through a curtain of clouds, Tekakwitha awoke bathed in its rays. Beams of sunlight entered through the door, wide open, of the longhouse. Seated on an old tree trunk, l'Aigle (the Eagle) was smoking, lost in thought. A shy good morning from his hostess brought a smile to his face...

Tekakwitha knelt beside the knees of Aigle.

Speak, I beg of you, speak, Aigle, she begged. I wish to return to serve my uncle and my aunts, but I do not want to be the spouse of Renard (Fox) nor of anyone else... I wish to belong only to the Great Spirit... I myself have seen that you are a good man. The Great Spirit loves those who are good like you. I have confidence n you, Aigle. Ask that they leave me be as I was. No one will refuse if it is you who ask this!...

Secretly flattered, the Indian became aware that his protege was also gifted with a keen intelligence since she appreciated his value, the unquestionable conqueror in bloodly battles.

Aigle never promises unless he can be true to his work, this spoken by him in a serious tone of voice. I will go speak with the chief, elder of the tribe. I will return you only if they promise not to mistreat you...
And I will not marry Renard?
Renard! murmured Aigle... I will see to it that he will not trouble the daughter of the Great Spirit... Aigle never forgets. Renard is my enemy...

What marvelous diplomacy must have been the discours spoken by Aigle in the longhouse of the aged parents! The Indiens have been know to be masters of the art of persuasion. They were shrewd and cunning, most of the chiefs were gifted with a remarkable eloquence. One could not admire more the intelligence and the flexibility of the person who was able to tame the frightening rage of the humiliated family, deceived and completely unhinged by that act, for them incomprehenisble and wicked, of their adopted daughter.

As it may be, once Aigle had finished his brillant plea, after some consultation among themselves, the uncle and the aunts, extending solemnly their hands, promised with a common agreement to retake Tekakwitha and to leave her free...

...

The parting took place with great testimony of friendship and respect on the part of everyone.

Aigle felt the awakening of dormant grudges. He was happy to see Renard, his enemy, deeply humiliated... while waiting for something better to happen. He was also very happy to have accomplished the cause of the young girl, who was very pleasing to him, in a way not so common among the Natives.

Evening came, and faithful to his promise, he came to fetch Tekakwitha... he brought her back to her noisy and attentive aunts. Alone, the uncle remained fixed in a sulking silence.

A long look filled with gratitude on the part of Tekakwitha appeared to impress more Aigle than the great expressions of gratitude of the aunts. He left with an enigmatic smile on his lips.

Chapter VII "The Algonquin"

At the breaking of dawn, Tekakwitha returned with her every day grace and calmness to her daily work. The uncle remained cold and sulking but the aunts appeared to have forgotten the painful incident of the night before. Renard was not in the village. No one saw him in the surrounding area. Everything was for the best.

And life continued its peacful course, one season moving on without incidents. But, little by little, Renard was seen. Neighbors, parents rekindled dormant memories. It was found that they had been weak regarding the young wayward Tekakwitha. In fact, was she not unreasonable? Did she love someone secretly, without asking permission? One must see this, for example, that his orphan taken in by pure goodness was also insolent and hyprocritical! Did she not want to just play the part of a stubborn person? These things would not be allowed for this proud girl!

And the situation got worse. The old chief, often absent, limited himself to giving orders with more harshness. He would speak only to the young girl to blame her or to threaten her. She did not cease, nevertheless, to give him a filial submission. But the wonder of wickedness was realized by the aunts and their friends. Tekakwitha was charged with the most difficult work, the longest, and the harshest. The young girls of the village made fun of her every time they met her. The children had fun by lashing out insults and throwing stones at her.

One of the aunts caused great grief for her by making fun of the "mixed blood" which flowed in her veins.

A nothing girl, she said, you are not a true Iroquois. You have the blood of a captive and of a conquered in you. You are nothing but an Algonquin, and we have humiliated your people the day that your mother was brought her by our brother, the great Chief Cerf-Agile!

All the pride of the Indian woman and the love of the child for her mother churned inside the wounded heart of Tekakwitha. She wanted to close shut these cruel lips hurting her with such hate and injustice.

But a ray from On-High, without a doubt, mysterious and sweet, enlightened and comforted the poor little one. She answered nothing. She forgave. She continued to be of service, hard working and loving.

Decidely, she was consired as being weak in spirit.

...

But the nickname stayed with the child of Fleur-de-la-Prairie, like her dear and saintly mother, she was known by everyone as the Algonquin!

Chapter VIII "Serious Events"

In 1663, serious events began a new era in Canada. These events had profound repurcussion upon the country of the Mohawks. The expedition of Mr. de Tracy saved the colony from the Iroquois peril.

...

Four years after the serious events and M. de Tracy's expedition, Tekakwitha saw missionairies for the first time in 1667. She was only eleven years old when the Black Robes entered her village.

The French soliders ravaged the forest, burned the abandonned longhouses, destroyed the crops. In short, the Iroquois understood that, this time, they had to submit to the conquerors with sincerety and good will. Their speakers, having brought back with them three missionaries mentioned later, were welcomed with great expressions of joy. Everyone encircled the missionaries respectfully, asking them to instruct them and to stay from now on with them. Tekakwitha followed anxiously the various phases of these serious events. She knew the anguish of flight, the sadness of the return to a devasted country. But she forgot all this while listening to the blessed voice of the missionaries who, at last, came to speak to her about God, of the Virgin, of heaven where rested Fleur-de-la-Prairie.

A providential fact, for the three days during which the missionaries spent at Gandaouagué (Cahnawagha), they lived in the very longhouse where Tekakwitha lived. Since it was the largest and most spacious, the Elder Great Chief of the village was asked to offer his hospitality to the distinguished visitors. The uncle was strongly hostile to any change of beliefs for his nation. But he feared another war with the "whites". It was absolutely necessary to keep the peace with the new arrivals on American soil; they became very feared. He consented then with good manners to "share the heart fire" with the Black Robes. Tekakwitha was able then to listen to the missionaries at length. She waited on them with respect, with zeal which surprised them and touched them deeply.

Also when finally a priest established himself defintely in the village, Father Jean Pierron, the young girl decided to follow diligently the practices in the chapel, and, secretly, she would prepare herself to ask to be baptized, without suspecting the new, terrible ordeals which were going to fall upon her.

Chapter IX "Near the Chapel..."

Father Pierron stayed three years at Kahnawaké, preaching, comforting, baptizing. He knew how to gain respect and affection among his converts. Regarding the other inhabitants of the village and of the surrounding area, they came voluntarily to listen to the Black Robe. Intelligent and very curious, when they were not hostile, the Iroquois asked only to be able to hear beautiful sermons given by an outstanding host, and it is in this manner that they thought of their missionary.

First of all, Tekakwitha would pass by and again like a light shadow around the little chapel. Fearful and timid, she hesitated entering. She heard marvelous things being said by the Priest. Then she returned peacefully and meditative to her longhouse, keeping these memories in her heart like the Virgin Mary did at the time when Jesus lived on earth. Little by little, she became more bold and, going along with the others, she was in the habit of following the practices.

One night, while returning from the chapel, she met, not very far from there, Aigle whom she noticed was in a thoughful pose.

A conversation between Tekakwitha and Aigle ensued. Tekakwitha asked him, if he, a great chief, had heard the words of the missionary. Aigle answered that a chief does not have the time to take in these words. Tekakwitha, surprised but timid, asked him this question:

--How can an intelligent man like Aigle ... not understand the things that are so beautiful that the Priest said about the Great Spirit?
...--Tekakwitha, my sister, this is the second time that I find that you are more intelligent than I am. For, you always understand what Aigle doesn't understand!
...--I so love the Great Spirit and everything spoken about Him and I wish that all would hear him, especially my brother Aigle, so good that the Great Spirit must love you well, He who loves so much those who are good ...

Aigle shook his head in silence and left, again impassive. His tall silouette was lost in the shadow of the dense forest.

Tekakwitha dreamed with emotion that only Aigle, among her own people, understood and loved her. She joined her hands and knelt for a few moments before entering. She was praying fervently...

God would take charge Himself to speak to the heart of the great chief, for even if Tekakwitha prayed, she would no longer see Aigle near the chapel.

Chapter X "After a Three Year Stay"

After a three year stay in the mission of Saint Peter in Kahanwaké, Father Jean Pierron was assigned to another mission ... the one at La Prairie on the banks of the Saint Lawrence river and under the name of Saint Francis-Xavier.

Father Françoois-Boniface succeeded him with the same zeal and the same success.

Numerous converts, feeling the need to live more freely as Christians away from a pagan surroundings dangerous to their new fervor, asked the missionary to help them to set up near the ardent Christians of La Prairie. The priest voluntarily agreed to their wishes and led them himself to Saint Francis-Xavier mission, where they were cordially welcomed as willing exiles.

Their departure flamed the anger of Tekakwitha's uncle.

Fanatically bound to the morals and customs of his nation, the Elder was already strongly opposed to the numerous conversions happening around him. But, this time, this was too much! The reserve of warriors and suppliers of the village were being reduced by permitting this exodus of young people, strong and courageous men, for a distant place, chief of brothers who became indifferent to the lot of their parents and friends of Kahnawaké.

Tekakwitha felt once more the backlash of the old man's furor, a feeling also shared by the quick-tempered aunts!

There were all sorts of new pretexts to berate the poor child. She was given laborious jobs. The least of her actions were critized as "Failure as an Iroquois, this Algonquin good only to mumble useless words to her Great Spirit".

To all of this, she never ceased to answer with the most gracious words and in the most lovable conduct.

An unforseen event would meanwhile put her on her way from now on most certainly toward the realization of her great desire: to be baptized!

She hurt herself, one day, while working outdoors, a painful wound in her foot. As the missionnary Priest (Ed: Jacques de Lamberville, s.j., 1675) always came to visit the sick, he came to see Tekakwitha, forced to stay in her longhouse. Upon seeing him enter, the young girl cried joyously. Without any apparent notice around her of the two or three neighbors who came to take care of and amuse her, she opened her soul to the missionary. And this became a page out of the "Golden Legend" which he believed that he had heard from this angelic child. He knew the entire life of Tekakwitha, her heroic viture, her hope, her sufferings, her fears. He understood that this daughter of the forest was a privileged soul of heaven and maybe already a soul of great sanctity.

The missionary encouraged her to pray and assured her that she would soon be baptized. However, he kept thinking of the probable rage of the terrible uncle.

--Are you not a bit afraid of your family? he asked. Will you have the strength to persevere if you become a Christian despite them!...

--I know all that, Father, Tekakwitha answered firmly. But do not fear, my resolution is firm, nothing will be able to make me rescind it even if I have to go elsewhere to find the grace which I long for.

This words astounded the missionary. Maybe, in effect, this would be possible - with God's help - and necessary ...

--Finally, concluded the Priest, let us pray well, continue to be instructed and, if God wants it, your family will put forth no obstacle to your baptism. If not ... heaven will assist you to find elsewhere the grace which you are so well seekingI

Completely comforted by these good words, Tekakwitha continued her work courageously, with candid hope.

God did not elude her waiting. He allowed a sudden reversal of opinion and mood with her capricious parents, thanks to the arrival, at the mission, of a renowned person KRYN, surnamed the Great Mohawk, sincere and zealous convert who, after greeting his friends at Kahnawaké, began to preach here like he did elsewhere, because he was so happy to be a Christian. He enjoyed an extraordinary reputation of bravery and intelligence ... He maintained a long and very cordial friendship with Tekakwitha's uncle and with Aigle, one of his best and oldest friends. Someone spoke to him about the young niece of his host ... and of her terrible situation, ... he asked for the honor of being the godfather of the future baptized person. No one dare to contradict such a person, and it was thus, in a very unforseen way, that Tekakwitha could freely enter into the Catholic Church.

Chapter XI "Easter Joy"

Dawn filled the green forest with pastel rays. This Easter morning was warm and softly luminous. At the rising of the sun, the little chapel was filled with converts. Many were required to stay outside, so large was the crowd of converts and the simply curious. The entrance was open, and all were able to admire the rich and colorful decorations of the chapel. The missionary (Ed: Jacques de Lambert, s.j.) had arranged for this double ceremony to be a splendor. Tiny fir trees and candle light adorned the altar. The faithful had decorated the walls with the richest animal pelts which they had: pelts from the beaver, bears, wildcats, silver foxes. The women, attached to their jewelry, had nevertheless lent gracefully their necklaces, their bracelets, their feathers and other ornaments for their hair.

Tekakwitha, with her usual docility, had allowed herself to be clothed beautifully in the manner of the young girls of the missions. She was charming in the Indian manner. But her soul was elsewhere, far away, so high, that she was not aware of the beauty of her attire: covered with richly dyed cloth, a dress adorned with multicolored wooden and porcelain perles, brocaded mitasse (a sort of gaiters), "enriched with porcupine quill designs, with brillant colors".

She was looked upon with admiration and respect. Something divine emanated from her frail body. She was radiating with joy and her happiness was mysteriously being transmitted to those in attendance. It was an unforgetable hour. Tekakwitha received the name of Kateri, which means, in our language, Catherine. She was twenty years old, and it was the 18 April in the year of 1676. (Ed: Eastern Sunday)

Chapter XII "The Departure"

From that moment on, the life of the new Christian was one of marvelous sanctity. Most admired her without question. Unfortunately, something would happen to trouble the family peace... Renard (Fox) just returned from a long expedition, a diplomatic expediton for sure, for the rejected lover rekindled hopefully his relationship as a good neighbor with the family of his ex-fiancée, to the great fear of the latter.

The uncle and his sisters took up the cause of marriage before her. They complained bitterly that they were dealing with hardheaded and egotistical children... Because the young girl never answered, they would get mad. The bad mood of the entourage darken the sky of the poor Kateri! They made her life so terrible in the longhouse that her frail constitution was greatly shaken. "When she will be so discouraged with her life as a useless and ill-treated young girl, she will easily give up", the elderly parents were saying with an incredible tenacity.

A final providential event happened to free forever Tekakwitha from her life of perpetual persecution.

Another of these converts who became volunteer apostles among their brothers who remained pagans, Louis, surnamed Cendre-Chaude (Hot Ashes) because of his lively mood and of his ardent zeal in the service of God, Louis, having come himself also from La Prairie, to preach by word and example, became the instrument through which God was to deliver Kateri and bring her where she would forever live in peace!

One of Tekwkaitha's relatives, Pied-Léger (Lightfoot), and another Christian passenger named the Huron, accompanied Cendre-Chaude.

The missionary, having been witness to a very nasty act surpassing all reason on the part of Kateri's aunts, resolved to assist her in her flight, with the help of Cendre-Chaude. In order not to arouse suspicion on the part of the parents of the young Iroquois, he spoke secretly and at length with Aigle, who used to visit him from time to time since Kryn's stay at Kahnawaké. Upon hearing about Renard, a lightning bolt of hate showed itself in Aigle's eyes.

--My brother Cendre-Chaude will arrange for Tekakwitha to leave, he said firmly. I have spoken!
The missionary understood that this would happen without dealy!

Some time later, one night, while thick clouds covered the banks of the singing Mohawk river, a canoe quietly launched flowed noiselessly under the cover of branches. An Indian, lowering his tall stature, rowed with the greatest precaution. Having arrived at a distination that was absolutely deserted and plunged into a profound darkness, he imitated the cry of a night bird. At this signal planned beforehand, three persons silently approached and took their place in the canoe. It was Huron, Pied-Léger and Tekakwitha fleeing toward La Prairie.

--Hot Ashes, stay there, explained Aigle in a low voice - for it was he who was coming by canoe. - He would have them beleive that his companions were leaving for other missions without a doubt. They will search for Kateri, for she had already fled. But I will make them search far away!...

Aigle was smiling.

Meanwhile, while awaiting the vibrant farewell of recognition and of joy of the young girl, he felt for the first time in his life a strange pang of anguish. He stiffened and with a strong and brief word, he commanded:

--Go quickly! I will watch here.

And leaning against a tree, he remained thus with his arms crossed, until he was able to hear the least rowing sound brushing on the calm waters. He dreamed of his strange role of watcher in the night, while, because of his care, the one person in the word that he ever loved was going far away, forever.

Three or four days later 7, the lily of the Mohawks had been transplanted on the Laurentien shore where it would blossom freely and lavish upon our Canada the perfume and the grace of its angelic vertu.

Ed: End of the First Part

Part Two is a series of chapters devoted to Tekakwitha at La Prairie on the shore of the Saint Lawrence River near Ville-Marie, New France (Montréal, Québec, Canada).

 

 

References:

(1)La Vie gracieuse de Catherine Tekakwitha, Juliette Lavergne, Éditions A.C.F., Montréal, 1934, pp. 13-43.

(2) Catherine Tekakwitha: Her Life, Fr. Pierre Cholenec, S.J. Her Spiritual Advisor and Biographer, Translated by William Lonc, S.J., 2002, pp. 1-3.

(3) Please refer to the reference at my Ancestry Website Sachem Charles Pachirini.

(4) Having exhausted the resources of the land, the Natives would move their entire village to an area several miles away where there were plentiful game and plants. (Ed. note)

(5)Permission to use this work was requested from Fides in an email dated 22 Jan 2005. Response dated 31 January 2005 indicated that the contract for that era needs to be searched.

(6) Lithograph by Henri Beaulac.

(7) It probably took longer to cover the 200 miles both by sea and by foot, from today's Fonda NY to the south bank of the Saint Lawrence River, in Québec.



Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
Flower of the Algonquins
Lily of the Mohawks
pray for us



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