On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Saint, and six others in front of some 80,000 people at Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. These kinds of ceremonies are always a big deal. There have only been about 3,000 people canonized in the history of the Catholic Church, and it's really hard to think of a better title for people to remember you by. For Tekakwitha's memory and the collective memory of the Native American diaspora, though, it marks an important step forward in their people's centuries-old relationship with the church.
For many Native Americans, Tekakwitha has been considered a saint since she died in 1680 at age 24. Born to a Christian Algonquin woman in upstate New York, Tekakwitha survived small pox at a young age and later became the wife of a Mohawk king. (She was ultimately known the "Lily of the Mohawks.") At age 20, she converted to Christianity, refused to marry a Mohawk man and, after a good dose of persecution, was run out of her village. She eventually wandered her way up to Quebec, where she joined a community of Christian women and died an early death. Those present at her death say that the years of prayer had erased the small pox scars from her face, an early sign that she might be someone special within the faith.