Kateri Tekakwitha was part of the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. The traditional territory of the Mohawks stretches from New York State to Southern Quebec. During the 1600's the Mohawk people lived mainly in New York State in a place known as the Mohawk Valley. The village where Kateri Tekakwitha was born was located in this valley on the shores of the Mohawk River. The village was named Ossernenon and is located at the present day site of Auriesville N.Y..
In the 1600's the Iroquois people lived in small villages made up of bark lodges called longhouses. One longhouse could hold several families. The traditional way of the Iroquois people was to move the village after a certain amount of time. This needed to be done because after years of living in one place the soil they needed to plant their crops would not be as good any more.
The village of Ossernenon was moved and renamed Kahnawake after a smallpox epidemic that killed Kateri's parents. A few years later the village was moved to the northern shore of the Mohawk River. The new village kept the name Kahnawake. This village of Kahnawake is where Kateri was baptized into the Christian faith. The actual site can still be found near the town of Fonda N.Y..
Around this time, about 1668, many Mohawk people were travelling north to the shores of the St. Lawrence River to a place called Laprairie. The Mohawks who were travelling there had converted to Christianity and were going because there were jesuit missions there. Many Mohawks living in the Mohawk Valley still followed their traditional ways and didn't approve of Christianity so the Christians felt it would be better if they went North where there were more people practicing Christianity. The new Mohawk village on the shores of the St. Lawrence was called Kentake.
The village was moved a total of four times afterwards about every ten years or so. Then names of the villages were Kahnawake, Kahnawakon, Kahnatawenke, and finally Kahnawake again. The Mohawk people have lived in Kahnawake since 1719. Kateri Tekakwitha, who died in 1680 never actually lived in Kahnawake. She would have died in a previous site of Kahnawake located in what is now known as Cote St. Catherine.
Today's Kahnawake has come a long way since 1719. You can still see some of the original buildings in the old part of town near the church. Most of the rest of the town is like any other modern town with modern homes, paved roads, and anything you would need in a town of 8,000 or more people, like a police station or hosipital.
The mohawk people orignally move to this land because of their faith but Kahnawake is not strictly a Christian community. In Kahnawake there is a Catholic, Protestant and Penticostal church. There is also a large number of people who follow the traditional practices and ceremonies in modern longhouses. Kahnawake is also the site of Kateri's tomb which is located in center of old Kahnawake in the Catholic church.
The govenrmental system in Kahnawake is run by the Band Council which is made up of eleven council chiefs and one grand chief. The band council system was created by the Canadian government. The Iroquois people have their own system of government and laws which have existed long before european settlers came to North America. Many people want to return to the traditional system of government.
In the early days of Kahnawake the main languages spoken were the native Mohawk language, Kanienkeha, and French. Today the most spoken language is English but recently a law was passed in Kahnawake making Kanienkeha the official language. This is one of the things being done to keep the language from being lost.