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KATERI TEKAKWITHA PROJECT ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION



Interviews, in audio and video formats, with transcripts, photographs, and project notes pertaining to the lives of American Indian Catholics , devotions to Kateri Tekakwitha, and other religious activities of Catholic and indigenous origin. Most respondents were active participants in the Catholic Church and of middle age or older. Most interviews were conducted in Arizona, New Mexico, and South Dakota among people from the Brulé, Dakota, Hunkpapa, Jemez, Laguna, Menominee, Navajo, Oglala, Ottawa, Pima, Sans Arc, Tohono O'odham, Winnebago [Ho Chunk], and Yankton tribes. A few respondents were knowledgeable non-Indians.

Processed by Mark G. Thiel, CA, 1995-1996, 2012. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Supporting Fund provided generous financial support.


Historical Note

This project was developed in 1994 at the request of Sister Genevieve Cuny, O.S.F., while serving at the Tekakwitha Conference National Center (Great Falls, Montana).

Most respondents were Native Americans who resided within one of the two target regions at the time of their interview, either Arizona-New Mexico or South Dakota, although a few resided in Wisconsin or Washington State. The majority described themselves as life long Catholics with a keen interest in Kateri Tekakwitha. Virtually all possessed some knowledge of their respective tribal religious and linguistic heritage and a number were very knowledgeable. Many expressed experiences relating to the interplay between tribal and Catholic traditions and several said that they have received favors, healing, or miracles through prayer. All interviews were conducted in English; however, specific words from languages were interjected on occasion and pronunciation of the name "Kateri" varied. In the transcripts, native words were spelled as faithfully as possible and the name Kateri was spelled either as "Kateri" or "Katali" to express whether the respondent used the Anglo ("Ka-ter-re") or Mohawk ("Gah-tah-lee") pronunciation.

The native respondents were selected through the use of prospect lists compiled with the aid of local parish leaders -- both Indian and non-Indian pastors, deacons, religious, and lay professionals. Consequently, most were active participants in their parishes as well as the Tekakwitha Conference. A disproportionate share were also older persons, especially women, in part reflecting their easier availability. Some potential respondents were unavailable due to participation in traditional activities (e.g. ranching, religious ceremonies) that take place away from their communities during the summer, the season during which all interviews were conducted.

The Participants

Total number of persons per category are noted in parentheses. Interviews of couples and groups are listed more than once as appropriate.

* = Deacon, priest, religious, or lay professional in the Catholic Church (8).

Religious Background
Interviews by Number
Catholics (Active)
With Catholic upbringing:
Youth (3)
94-20A, 94-24B
Young/middle aged men (4)
94-10, 95-1*, 95-4*, 95-10
Young/middle aged women (12)
94-3, 94-5, 94-16, 94-19, 95-1, 95-2, 95-5, 97-7, 95-9, 95-17, 95-19*
Older aged/elder men (16)
94-1, 94-2, 94-4, 94-8, 94-11, 94-13, 94-15, 94-16, 94-20B, 94-24A, 94-25*, 95-8, 95-12*, 95-14, 95-16, 12-01, 12-04, 12-05
Older aged/elder women (25)
94-7, 94-9, 94-12*, 94-14A, 94-14B, 94-18, 94-20B, 94-21, 94-22, 94-24A, 94-24B, 95-1, 95-3A, 95-3B, 95-6, 95-8, 95-13, 95-15, 95-18, 95-20, 95-21, 12-02, 12-03
With Protestant upbringing (Catholic converts)
Young/middle aged man (1)
94-26*
Older aged/elder man (1)
95-11
Without Christian upbringing (Catholic converts)
Young/middle aged man (1)
95-13*
Non-Catholic
With Protestant upbringing (active non-Catholic Christian)
Young/middle aged woman (1)
94-6
With Catholic upbringing (former Christian)
Young/middle aged man (1)
94-17

Interviews with persons of mixed tribal heritage are listed more than once, whereas persons of mixed Indian and non-Indian background are listed according to their tribal affiliation only. Respondents without native heritage are listed as non-Indians.

* = Interview that provides notable description of involvement with tribal religious beliefs and practices.

Ethnic Group
Interviews by Number
Choctaw (1) 95-1
Dakota-Lakota (28): Brulé, Hunkpapa, Oglala, Sans Arc, Santee, Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Yankton  94-1, 94-2, 94-3, 94-4, 94-5*, 94-6*, 94-7, 94-8, 94-9*, 94-10*, 94-11*, 94-13, 94-14A, 94-14B, 94-15, 94-16, 94-17*, 94-19, 94-20A, 94-20B, 94-21*, 94-22, 94-23*, 94-24A, 94-24B, 94-25, 94-26, 12-04
Hopi (1) 95-10
Jemez (2) 95-8
Laguna (5) 95-6, 95-7, 95-9, 95-10*, 95-11
Menominee (1) 12-01
Navajo (8) 95-1, 95-2, 95-3A, 95-3B, 95-4*, 95-5*, 95-13*, 12-05
Ojibwa (1) 94-12
Ottawa (1) 12-02
Pima (3) 95-14, 95-15, 95-16
Tohono O'Odham (4) 95-18*, 95-19*, 95-20, 95-21
Winnebago [Ho Chunk] (1) 12-03
Yaqui (1) 95-17
Non-Indian (5) Unnumbered

Questionaires for Native American Respondents

The questions employed in 1994-1995, which are given below, were developed with assistance from Dr. James J. Preston, Chair, Religious Studies Program, State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York, 1991. Comments found in brackets were used only in the South Dakota interviews. The questions employed in interviews 12-01 through 12-04 were modified from those used in 1994-1995, whereas those used in 12-05 were unique and developed for that interview only. In 12-5, the respondent described the World War II devotional experiences of his late father, Samuel Tso, who had served in the U.S. Marines as a Navajo code talker in the Pacific Theatre.

A. Background

  1. Name, age, and tribe.

  2. What sort of learning and training have you received? What is the language of the home? Are you fluent in your tribal language? What have been your occupation (s)?

  3. Where were you born? How long have you lived here? Elsewhere?

  4. Tell us about your family. Have you been married a long time? How many children?

  5. Tell us about your religious practices. What is your earliest religious memory? Do you have any religious articles in the home? When you close your eyes, what religious images do you see?

  6. What does it mean to be Indian today?


B. Kateri Tekakwitha

  1. When did you first learn about Kateri Tekakwitha? [Note: At the Holy Rosary Mission School, Pine Ridge Reservation, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the 1933 school play was about Kateri Tekakwitha and titled "Lily of the Mohawks."]

  2. What did you feel or think when she was beatified? When do you think she will be declared a saint? Did you go to the beatification in Rome? What do you think of having a Native American saint?

  3. How often do you feel her presence or think of her now? How do you communicate with Kateri? When do you seek her?

  4. When you pray to Kateri, what happens to you inside? Have you ever experienced favors or miracles due to Kateri's intercession (or that of other saints)?

  5. What does Kateri mean to your tribe? To other Indian people? How do children respond to Kateri?

  6. What do you think about Kateri's non-Indian followers?


C. Catholic Church

  1. What does Jesus Christ mean to you? Is Mary and any other saints special to you?

  2. What should be the relationship of the elders to the church? Catechists? Native religious? Native deacons and clergy?

  3. Have you participated in the [St. Mary or St. Joseph Society? Congresses?] Mini Tek or Tekakwitha Conference? Special ceremonies at Church?

  4. What do you think about the combination of Indian spirituality with the Catholic faith? (e.g. sacred pipe, smudging, tribal language)

  5. What do your children think about the Church? Church-school? What is the future of Native American Catholicism?

  6. How can the Church better serve the people? What can the Church do to bring the people closer?


Scope and Content

Kateri Tekakwitha Project Series 1, Interviews: The interviews are sub-divided by format (Hi 8 Video, VHS Video, Audio Cassette, Wav, Transcript) and there under they are arranged numerically in chronological order. Only selected interviews were transcribed. The 1994-1995 interviews were recorded in video format whereas the 2012 interviews were recorded in Wav format. Those in video include some background footage in addition to the interviews. A folder of clippings, bulletins, newsletters, and ephemera follows the transcripts in series 1-4.

Transcripts are available on request.

Kateri Tekakwitha Project Series 2, Photography: The photography is divided by format (color prints and negatives) and arranged geographically. It contains images of the participants and background scenes. Also included are a series of eight images regarding the enshrinement of a statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in San Diego Mission, Jemez Pueblo, 1989. These images were copied from originals borrowed from Joe and Juana Pecos of Jemez Pueblo.


More Related Resources

  • Christianity and Native America: Checklist to all Marquette Native Catholic collections plus access to detailed information about them including genealogical records; access to digital image collections and The Indian Sentinel historic magazine online; information for educators about Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and her Native Catholic followers.

  • Guides to Catholic-Related Records about Native Americans in the United States: Over 1,000 repository entries in PDF format to help genealogists and historical researchers find the records they need on American Indians and Alaskan Natives. The entries provide contact information on the repositories, brief descriptions about the records, the Native groups served, and the associated Catholic organizations. Many of the entries include institutional chronologies to explain the history of the records.

Black and Indian Mission Office > Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions

Tekakwitha Conference National Center

U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops > Cultural Diversity in the Church