National Tekakwitha Conference brings tribes together

Great Attendance 
The National Tekakwitha Conference was held in Rapid City, July 19-22. Dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, it is the largest gathering of Native Catholics in the U.S. and Canada. This year more than 750 people attented the event in Rapid City. Dancer Dallas Chief Eagle and his daughter, Dallasina, performed at the powwow demonstrating traditional hoop dancing. (WRC photos by Laurie Hallstrom)

Tekakwitha Conference Committee leaders, Alice Pourier, vice committee chair, from Pine Ridge, and Beverly Running Bear, committee chair, from Rapid City, carried the traveling Tekakawitha icon in the Grand Entry, July 20.


By Laurie Hallstrom

“Loving One Another Through the Spirit of Kateri,” was the theme of the 78th Annual National Tekakwitha Conference held in Rapid City, July 19-22. It brought together people of many tribes, religious and clergy.

Fr. Peter Klink, SJ, vice president for Mission and Identity at Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge, gave the opening keynote address on July 20. He has attended many National Tekakwitha Conferences, and while he cannot recite every state by heart, he does recall the religious and social experiences they brought to him.

“The National Tekakwitha Conferences were a positive faith experiences for the entire family. I remember grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren all celebrating, all having a good time, all sharing faith,” he said.

Father Klink recalled the St. Mary and St. Joseph Societies wherein native people could support one another in faith. He said by the mid-1980s the national conferences had become predominantly a gathering of elders. The Tekakwitha Conferences he has attended brought together all generations. “Include the youth in planning conferences. We have to be fun and substantive to them,” he said.

He noted the conferences were larger before the October 2012 canonization of St. Kateri.

“The challenge and invitation of St. Kateri, and of a loving God, is basically ‘now what’? How is the spirit inviting us and calling us to be a lively experience of God’s good news … throughout Indian Country today?”

“I am confident that throughout these days of our gathering here two women are smiling broadly, the blessed Virgin Mary, the church’s model of trusting faith, and St. Kateri. Both are watching … they want the best faith experience for us. We are not alone; they are interceding and cheering for us. That’s important for us to always remember.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, celebrated the opening Mass. He reminded the people he was ordained a bishop 29 years ago in Rapid City. In his homily, he said many of the people he spoke with since his arrival at the conference were men and women who were heavily burdened by illnesses, jobs and deaths.

Referring to the Gospel of the day, Mt 11:28-30, he said, “All of us are subjects of Jesus’ invitation ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.’”

Archbishop Chaput said by knowing God’s love we can release our anxieties and worries and not take them into the future. We can depend on God.

Friday morning the keynote speaker was Dr. Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College, Ft. Yates, N.D., and a member of the Standing Rock Tribe. She addressed the conference theme.

“When we think about loving each other and caring — to me that means family,” said Vermillion. She grew up with her family close by and said her fondest memories include her grandparent’s who lived about 100 yards from them in their own home. Vermillion said. “People need to know where they come from, who they are, their language and their culture in order to be happy people — people who are successful. This is what we encourage our students to do. I didn’t know a lot about my culture and my language. I didn’t learn because it wasn’t a priority. My parents and grandparents thought that would be best for us.

“Now I make sure that our young people know who they are. We have a Lakota language immersion nest and to see the young people there is mind-boggling. They have so much respect. I see these young children speaking and listening and answering questions in Lakota. This is part of the answer. This is part of how we make things better.”

Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark, Los Angeles, Calif., celebrated the July 21 Mass before conference members spent the afternoon at Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer.

On the morning of July 22, there was a panel discussion on opening the cause of Nicholas Black Elk for canonization.

Bishop Robert D. Gruss, Diocese of Rapid City, celebrated the concluding Mass. The Gospel from Matthew was the parable Jesus told about sowing good seed. Bishop Gruss said, “Our faith makes unconditional demands on us throughout our lives. It requires us to make immense leaps of sympathy and forgiveness; it asks us to live for God, not for earthly power and wealth; it asks us to put aside self-will and to live for others…”