Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 20, 2019

Earth Concerns News

Kateri Tekakwitha: Her Life and Her Relationship with Nature by Dorothy Hathway, CSJA

One of our newest saints, Kateri Tekahkwitha [Tekakwitha], has been called a patroness of ecology, and perhaps that's true. However, as we examine her life, her relationship with the natural world was far more powerful than most imagine.

 Mohawk Land
As a child, Kateri (gaw duh Lee, in Mohawk) was known in her village as a girl who was skilled at such crafts as making baskets and belts, creating hair ties, using materials that nature provided. She worked in the fields as she was able and understood the people's relationship to nature and its cycles. When she left her adoptive family to join the Praying Indians at Kahnawake, she saw the bounty and power of the beautiful St. Lawrence River and the Lachine Rapids. Some of her prayer and penitential practices, as we know, incorporated aspects of nature's proven power, strength and ability to heal. Today, for the Mohawk People, that's a good thing to remember, considering the price later generations have had to pay for our corporate contamination of their river and land. We tend to look at current issues that are “remote” to us and often don't realize that already we have a sad history in our front yard.
Mohawk Land, Updated
A short distance up the river from Kahanawake, Kateri's final home, is the home of the Akwesasne Mohawk Community. It's near Massena, and Americans call it the St. Regis Indian Reservation. An article, written by Terri Haugen, published June 29, 2011 in the newspaper "Indian Country Today," explained part of their ecological problems:
“The St. Regis Akwesasne community is adjacent to an EPA Superfund site, an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located. It was once occupied by a General Electric facility that dumped tons of hazardous waste into two landfills that released PCBs. Nearby aluminum smelters, belonging to Reynolds and Alcoa, now New York State Superfund sites, also released PCBs that contaminate the river, its tributaries, its wildlife and its people. The high PCB levels rapidly changed their traditional lifestyle after 1988. Snapping turtles, known to Natives as the foundation of Mother Earth, Turtle Island, were found to be contaminated at levels that would qualify them as hazardous waste. Outwardly, the area is placid, and still a beautiful place to live. Craig Arquette, a member of the tribe which serves on the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment, a group that assisted the researchers, told ICTMN.
The more researchers learn about how PCBs affect human health in the community, the more questions are raised. As Schell pointed out, “It’s important to acknowledge that there have been some questions that have been answered.’ Researchers have already established that PCBs have altered thyroid-gland function in the Akwesasne community. Prior studies had found lower testosterone levels and had established links to autoimmune disorders."

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, with the Massena Remedial Advisory Committee, in their final (1995) report, listed impairments and causes/sources of problems in the St. Lawrence River. The following are two examples: bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems, caused by PCBs and contaminated sediments; fish and wildlife consumption restrictions, caused by PCBs, Mirex, Dioxin, inactive hazardous waste sites, contaminated sediments and industrial discharges. Of course, fishing, which used to be a source of both food and tourist income, is out of the question. Additional expenses were incurred when the Mohawk Nation had to move their school because of contamination of both the earth and the children's water. Children should never attend school on a toxic-waste site.
Would Kateri understand this abuse of nature? I doubt it. The abuse is caused by people, not by business entities. Ultimately, the decisions are human ones. In some instances they were made out of ignorance, carelessness and lack of foresight but not always. It began with greed and exploitation, and it's our obligation as well as theirs to clean it up.Tadadaho Leon Shenandoah's statement says it well:
"These are our times and our responsibilities. Every human being has a sacred duty to protect the welfare of our Mother Earth from whom all life comes. In order to do this, we must recognize the enemy, the one within us. We must begin with ourselves." We must teach others to do the same.