Tekakwitha Conference attendees celebrate tribal customs, Catholicism
Published: July 25, 2012
ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Throughout the Tekakwitha Conference, the smell of burning sweet grass -- known among native peoples as the "hair of mother earth" -- wafted through Masses as congregants approached altars offering corn, beans and squash with the Eucharist. Musicians played flutes, horn rattles and tree-bark water drums while chanting in native languages. Performers and speakers re-enacted the Iroquois creation story; made cases for environmental stewardship; delivered monologues from the perspective of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha; and read poetry praising the conference's patroness, who will be canonized in October. Several dozen children learned to make rosaries and dance with hoops while adults debated how to engage native youth as conference membership grays. More than 800 Native American Catholics converged in Albany July 18-22 for the 73rd annual conference. Besides attending workshops and liturgies, attendees made pilgrimages to two shrines in other locations in the Albany Diocese -- the birth and baptismal places of Blessed Kateri in Auriesville and Fonda, respectively. Ambrosia Redwillow, an 11-year-old member of the Oglala Lakota tribe living in urban Denver, "got to learn about what being Catholic and Native American means," she said. "It means believing in God, and native means it's in your blood. "You can be both," Ambrosia continued, hitting on an oft-cited tension between staying true to tribal culture, which may include a separate set of spiritual beliefs, while being a good Catholic. "You don't have to be ashamed of being both."
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