AKWESASNE — Jackie Tarbell wanted to give something to the St. Regis Mohawk community and found a way, using his talent as a painter.
He chose bold colors and fine details to bring attention and visual life to a new 800-pound statue of Mohawk maiden Kateri Tekakwitha, the first aboriginal Indian to be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI will conduct the canonization ceremony Sunday at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, and witnessing the historic event will be a delegation of more than 500 from both the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation at Akwesasne and the Kahnawà:ke Reservation near Montreal.
Kateri Tekakwitha (pronounced Gah-Dah-LEE Degh-Agh-WEEdtha) and known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” was born in 1656 to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin woman and has two miracles attributed to her.
She died 1680 at age 24, living her short life in tribute to the Mohawk culture and to her faith as a Catholic.
She is among seven people to be elevated to sainthood today.
The newly painted statue stands in front of the Kateri Tekakwitha Center on Route 37 in Akwesasne, where Vicky Phillips is the religious-education coordinator.
She stood in the grassy lawn with the center’s secretary, Delia Terrance, on Thursday, watching Tarbell and admiring his work.
“It’s just amazing to me that someone would volunteer to do this,” Phillips said.
When the statue donated by the Kateri Circle arrived, it was plain white, and the center staff were unsure how they were going to afford to have it painted.
“Jackie came forward and said, ‘I’ll do it’,” and that was it,” Phillips said. “It is such a gift.”
Tarbell said he began painting when he was 11 and had early success when he created the signs that were hung to advertise and promote the original Bear’s Den Trading Post.